My first kid graduated from our homeschool this past Spring and is now at "home" in a college seminary 10 hours away. Before he left, I was curious...
Well? How did it go? I mean... how did we do, son? Did your Dad and I completely miss the mark on anything? Or... at least did we not completely miss the mark on all things?"
That was my version of an exit interview and I peppered him with detailed questions. After all, there are 7 other kids after him. If I screwed up badly with him, I want to know so that I can fix it. I know that an 18-year old won't have all those answers but there were some questions that I knew he'd be able to help with.
Up first? THE INTERNET. Tell me what you know, boy, and make it snappy. I have lots of little souls to love and technology is a beast. These were the conditions for answering:
- There would be no negative repercussions for fully honest answers.
- Your audience is mostly adult Christian men, women, and clergy.
So... here is my brief interview with my (then) 18-year old graduating homeschool high school senior:
AS A YOUNG TEEN WITH ACCESS TO TECHNOLOGY, DID YOU FULLY UNDERSTAND THE DANGER?
I did not fully understand the dangers of the internet when I was young, probably because I didn't grow up in a time with wifi or tablets or smartphones. Therefore, when I did become exposed to new technology, it took me longer to learn their true capabilities. Unfortunately, kids growing up post-2010 (after the invasion of the iPad) do not have the same lack of familiarity with tech; my 3-year old sister has basic knowledge of tablets that surpasses that of my grandmother.
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST MISTAKE(S) YOUR PARENTS MADE WITH REGARD TO INTERNET TECHNOLOGY IN YOUR HOME?
Of course, this question can only answered in retrospect. Hindsight is 20/20! Yet, I would say:
- Failing to monitor bedtime/nighttime internet usage, and
- Providing inadequate control on devices due to lack of technical knowledge
WHAT DO TEENS KNOW ABOUT THEIR DEVICES AND COMPUTERS THAT PARENTS MIGHT NOT KNOW?
Speaking as a teen, unless mom or dad works as a computer professional, the kids almost always know more about the hidden settings and capabilities of an iPad or phone than the parents. It's easy to convince mom that she's secured the device or that the internet is effectively blocked or that Bobby's new app is benign. Parents: never assume you know more than your child. Believe me.
WHAT IS THE EASIEST WAY FOR A CHILD TO ABUSE THE PRIVILEGE OF INTERNET USAGE?
Simply put, the abundance of portals that exist make it difficult to monitor. As a parent, you likely have thousands of details in your brain, so much minutiae to keep track of, that one little electronic device often goes unnoticed. If a thing doesn't exist to the mind, it's dreadfully easy to hide. If you're trying to internet-proof your home, make a literal list of every internet capable device in the house and be able to account for their whereabouts at all times (and the whereabouts of the charger -- almost more important!!).
Aren’t sure if a device is childproof or even internet-capable? Find out. Educate yourself. Technology isn’t that hard to understand if you want to.
P.S. In addition, portals can be found outside the home in the form of friends. This is one area that my parents have not made many mistakes with me. The solution is, truly, to curate your child’s friends list. Sound harsh? I’m a survivor; trust me, your kid will live: they might even thrive. But this is a topic for someone else to write about.
DO YOU HAVE AN OPINION ON PARENTAL CONTROL AND SECURITY SETTINGS?
This questions sort of flows with the next... so I’ll try to combine the answers.
IF YOU WERE A PARENT, WOULD YOU ALLOW YOUR 12-YEAR OLD TO HAVE AN IPOD? AN IPHONE? A LAPTOP? HOW ABOUT A 16-YEAR OLD?
As a parent, I would probably allow any children above these ages to own a piece of technology, with two caveats:
The device in question did not have cellular connectivity (e.g. no smartphones or 3G/4G/5G enabled tablets)
The device was prepared in advance by me, with all necessary parental controls enabled
There were more questions but the kid had stuff to do and I let him off the hook. What he said was sufficient. I know very well how I screwed up with technology and I'm constantly trying to manage it in the home. Open the door... slam the door... open the door... stick a toe out... get it stepped on... pull back. I can't tell you how much I detest the internet and it's prominent place in my life and in culture.
But it is what it is, as they say. And it takes some maturity, savvy, and a whole lot of humility to manage it. I appreciate my son's honesty and his ongoing support when I text him at odd hours with tech questions.
To round off this post, I just want to post an honest warning to all parents (originally posted on my FB page)...
A reminder for all parents whose kids have access to the internet in any way...
Even kids who don't go seeking porn online will likely eventually run into it. It is harmful to all people but especially to children. Your filters may or may not work. These are some ways in which porn can reach your kids even if you have filters:
1. Email links or content. Children are much more likely to fall prey to commands telling them to "click here" than an adult who recognizes spam. Images may also be in the email content itself.
2. YouTube. Porn can and does pop up even among innocent videos. The Youtube screening process is insufficient and porn pushers are crafty and aggressive. They want your kids hooked. Today.
3. Pop-up ads. Scenario: Kid tries to click the little X to close a random advertising pop-up while playing innocent video games and is taken to a graphic porn site.
4. Amazon Prime videos.
5. Amazon ebooks. Some erotic reading material is available for free on Amazon. While it may not be considered porn in a strict sense, it is horrible in its own way.
8. Google. It takes two seconds to access anything you want including photos, video, and erotic novels.
9. Facebook. The filters aren't fast enough on social media sites and hackers happen. Many of us know that firsthand.
13. Innocent looking apps.
I don't want to be discouraging, only alert those of you who may have a false sense of security. The internet is a dangerous place for minds and souls, young and old. Be vigilant. Don't be afraid to talk to your children about the proper context for and beauty of sexuality. And be ready to extend the hand of mercy, support, and healing.
St. Michael, pray for us.