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Most nights found “Dylan” in front of his laptop looking at online pornography when his parents thought he was asleep. We know that teens love the Internet…so why is it that 41% of parents are still clueless about their kids’ use of it?
Here’s one simple example of the glaring misunderstanding between kids and parents when it comes to kids’ use of the Internet. A new study by Norton Online Living claims that kids spend almost 20 hours online each week. Does that amount shock you? Maybe, maybe not. But it DID shock the parents of the same group of kids who thought their children only spent 2 hours online each week!
Are these 41% of parents just disconnected from their kids, or, do these kids intentionally keep mom and dad in the dark?
A Quick Test
Whether you’re a parent or a youth worker, take a moment and answer each of the following questions?
- How much time do your kids spend online in a typical week?
- Do your kids have a Facebook and/or MySpace profile? If so, are you a “friend” of theirs?
- What are they actually doing when they connect to the WWW?
- What are their favorite sites to visit?
Many parents do not have the “right” answers to these questions. Sadly, many more don’t have an answer at all.
What Kids Are Up To Online
We’re aware of most of the dangers associated with the Internet. Like my student “Dylan,” we know that teens can stumble onto porn sites; they might also be solicited by a sexual predator. They could even be a target for the ever-increasing trend known as cyber-bullying, which made news again last week because of its potential connection to this teen’s suicide in the UK.
But, they could just be watching hour after hour of goofy streaming videos. (Nielsen says the average for 12-17 year olds is about 132 minutes per month, making them the biggest group of viewers.) Or perhaps they’re spending untold hours simply “hanging” with friends in virtual worlds or social networks. Who knows?
Not you if you don’t ask.
Fortunately for us, the Norton Report mentioned above has invested some time into studying teenagers’ Internet habits. Of the students polled in the US:
- 35% say they “make friends” online. (That percentage increases the older they get.)
- 76% visit social-networking sites (Facebook, MySpace, and Bebo).
- 35% of students claimed to be shopping while connected.
- 42% of them admitted receiving an online request for personal information.
More research just came out of GenDigital’s recent study of teens’ online lives.
- A whopping 93% of teens use the Internet.
- 55% of that group has a profile on Facebook and/or MySpace.
- AddictingGames.com is quickly becoming the leading “casual gaming site” for all youth.
- Only 16% of teens use email, compared to the prolific use of it by adults.
The More You Know
Sir Francis Bacon said, “Knowledge is power.” I prefer “applied knowledge is power,” but regardless, the more we know, the better chance we have of guiding teens through their use of the Internet. We tend to condemn the Internet as a tool of the devil when we hear stories about online predators and identity theft, but we don’t seem to mind having 24-7 access to previous episodes of “Lost,” or real time updates on the NBA Finals… especially when we’re stuck in those exciting church finance meetings.
So, how can we help steer kids through an Internet that offers them the same benefits…and liabilities?
- Bring the 41% of parents who don’t know what their kids are doing online up to speed. Scratch that. Inform 100% of parents…just to make sure! When the dark practices of kids’ Internet usage is brought to light, many parents want to blame the Internet instead of conversing with their kids about it. Encourage your parents to have MULTIPLE conversations with their children about their Internet usage. One “talk” is just not good enough!
- Share with your kids your own strategies for staying pure and safe while online. No, I’m not referring to your endorsement of spam-filters; I’m talking about the intentional steps you employ to make sure you don’t fall victim to online sin. (Keeping the computer out in the open…only going online when someone else is present…restricting the amount of time you spend online…etc.) Sharing this kind of “inside look” at your life with your students will have multiple positive effects on your kids!
- Make students aware of the consequences of ungodly actions while online. This isn’t a scare tactic! But, so many students divorce virtual life from real life, with little understanding of the connection between the two. From “seemingly” harmless activities like posting a sexy pic on their profile, or blogging inappropriately about a friend, many teens are simply naïve about the results of their actions, until they feel the pain associated with them. Like our grandmothers always said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
So much of a teenager’s life hinges on the parents. Do all that you can to bring them alongside of you as your greatest ally for transforming teenagers into lifelong disciples of Christ. TheSource4YM.comoffers a Parent’s Seminar that helps them deal with more aspects of teen life than just their online habits. For more information on bringing our trained specialists to your community, check out our Parent’s Page.
David R. Smith
David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.