Throughout history the blessings of God have allowed people to invent amazing new technologies. One such technology is the Internet. The Internet is a powerful tool to collect and share information. Initially, it was only available through desktop computers wired to the wall, but now it is available wirelessly. From letters to phone calls to television, it all happens through the Internet now, but like any tool, it can be used for good or evil. I am continually impressed by all the new things I find people doing online that makes human life better, but the Internet also has many dangers. Mature adults can make good decisions, but children need help. What follows is an overview of the big dangers for children on the Internet.
In the old days, it was quite hard for kids to access pornography, but that is no longer the case. On the Internet, the lure of easy money has led to countless pornographic websites online. This offensive material then sits there like a trap waiting for children to find it. Over the years, it has gotten worse, with many social networks allowing pornography under the guise of free speech. Kids will inevitably hear about pornography in school, then look it up out of curiosity. This can quickly lead to addiction.
Cyberbullying is a relatively new problem enabled by social networks on the Internet. Social networks allow users to easily create content and share it with everyone. This has allowed bullying, which used to be confined to the schoolyard, to follow a child wherever they go online. School arguments can now flood into the online world where it is easy for classmates and anonymous people to gang up on a person, writing the worst things imaginable about them. The consequences of cyberbullying can be devastating. It has led many children to suicide.
Because the Internet is still a new technology, it is mostly populated by those more accepting of new things: progressives. Progressives tend to be liberal, irreligious, and pro-choice, all potentially dangerous things for Catholic children to be exposed to. Most children want to be agreeable and follow their parents beliefs, but when confronted by opposing beliefs online, peer pressure will many times lead them to lie or ignore what they have been taught just to fit in with the group.This might just be lying at first, but after hearing opposing beliefs for years, they can easily come to believe it. Children can be indoctrinated without knowing it’s even happening.
There have been a lot of awareness campaigns around online predators, so this is probably the most well known danger on the Internet for children. In their innocence, many children give away personal information online including their real name, address, phone number, and more. That might be fine when the people they are socializing with our fellow children, but on the Internet it is easy for people to fake their identity. That personal information could now be in the hands of a online predator. Online predators, being adults, can easily persuade children to meet in person, where they are kidnapped, abused, and possibly even murdered. It’s a tragedy that happens too often.
A new danger has emerged in the form of militant groups like ISIS radicalizing teenagers through the Internet. These groups have found many lonely kids online. With just a little positive attention each day, they have slowly convinced many teenagers to believe everything they say, including radical beliefs. Within a year, a teenager can go from being normal kid to making plans to join terrorists. Sadly, ISIS has found this to be a very effective tactic. Seemingly out of nowhere a kid completely transforms. The worst part is that parents usually don’t even know it’s going on.
These are just some of the dangers to children posed by the Internet, but I hope I have convinced you the Internet is not a safe place for children. It can even be dangerous for adults, but adults have experience and wisdom to make better decisions. Children many times will not make the best decisions for their future. They need the help of their parents, even though they don’t know it and resist.
It is absolutely critical that parents keep track of what their children do online. It might seem impossible because the Internet is so massive. How can you possibly monitor everything your children do online? The truth is you can’t monitor everything, but there are three things that will greatly aid you in this task.
Number one is educating yourself on the dangers of the Internet and then teaching it to your children. Spend a few weekends researching the topics I mentioned above and any other dangers you read about. Once you know the dangers well, spend a few days telling your children about it. Start a routine of quizzing your children on what to do when they come across one of the dangers. Eventually, your children will do some of the monitoring themselves, letting you know when something is wrong. You can’t trust kids to do everything right though. Sometimes they will deliberately do the opposite of what you want, so the remaining two things are also necessary.
Number two is to let the computers handle some of the work. For smartphones, tablets, video game consoles, and anything else that connects to the Internet, activate parental controls. Educate yourself on the various controls available and how they work. The device will probably have instructions, but more information can be found from a quick Google search. For desktop computers, you should look into an Internet filter. There are paid ones and free ones. A free one called K9 Web Protection has a good reputation, but I’m sure you can find other good ones too. Set it up to be very strict initially. You can loosen the restrictions as needed if your children request access to a website. This way you will have a chance to review the website before giving permission. With properly configured parental controls and Internet filters, your children will be protected from many dangers on the Internet.
Number three is setting some ground rules for appropriate Internet use. Even with your children monitoring themselves and parental controls, some dangers can still slip through the cracks. Implement these rules to capture any remaining dangers:
- No computers or televisions in the children’s bedrooms – It’s too dangerous for children to use the Internet completely unattended. Keep the big screens out of the rooms to incentivise children to spend much of their time in the more visible, shared rooms during the day.
- Children’s bedroom doors must be open during the day – Other than when children are changing clothes, parents should be able to see into the bedrooms anytime they pass by. Keeping the doors open will also let parents be able to hear what’s going on in their children’s rooms even when they are down the hall.
- No smartphones, tablets, or handheld video games in the children’s bedrooms after bedtime – With this rule you must confiscate all these devices and keep them in your (the parents’) bedroom at night. Make sure they are all turned off. This way your children can’t secretly use the Internet in their room at night away from any supervision.
Your children will probably not be happy about all these changes because you will be limiting their freedom, but it is critical for their development as humans and faithful Catholics that you control their Internet use. Stay firm and they will get used to it eventually. Ignoring this essential parenting duty would be like letting your children hang out on the streets all night where anything could happen. It’s negligent to give children full access to the Internet. Take charge of this situation, and your children will reap the benefits for years to come.
May God bless you with his abundant grace,