This is a question I ask myself every hour of every day. I have a family of tech-savvy teenagers, and it feels like our generation of parents has to figure out how to raise children all over again. And when you are doing something new, you will inevitably make mistakes. The list below has some things that I have figured out, some things that I am trying, and some things that I think I should be trying soon. But it is not a definite ‘how to’ list. Please use it as a list of ideas, some of which may be helpful to you.
Let your children know what is good
There are so many potentially evil things children can find online, that it is impossible to discuss them all with your children. That’s why it is important that they are given the tools to recognize for themselves things that are not right. And for this, they need to first of all know what is good. Surround your children with good things. Good conversations, good relational interaction, good friends and families that can be role models, good stories, beautiful things to see and listen to, a good church family, loving service and compassion for others, healthy and balanced lifestyles, honorable ways of speaking about sex, sensible talk about politics, healthy attitudes to material things and so on. If your children get used to good things, they will find it easier to intuitively recognize bad things.
Support critical thinking of your children
But you can also help them to develop their critical thinking. Take gambling sites for example. They promise to make you rich, but in reality, they make far more people poor. So, where does all this money go? Ask questions that force children to think. For example, how do you think watching porn will affect the way people see the opposite sex? Is this healthy? How can you keep your mind clean? You could also look up research on the effects of porn use and discuss it together.
Learn them how to search online
Teach them to double-check information that sounds too good to be true or just weird. Tell them where they can find reliable information on medical issues, science, faith, nutrition, and other controversial topics. And even a five-year-old can be taught to understand why anecdotal evidence is not the same as scientific evidence.
Online privacy needs to be protected
Teach children to protect their privacy. Tell them it is not wise to post pictures of themselves, their names, ages, addresses or other identifying details on public pages/forums/social media. They can choose another internet name to interact online. Your children may be very upset they cannot have a public Instagram account where they can post crazy selfies, but they will thank you for it later.
Let your children be carefull with personal stuff
Also, explain why it is never okay to take pictures that are too private for public use and send them to friends. Private pictures have a way of becoming public somehow. Today’s friend may be tomorrow’s enemy. And you could be embarrassed, or blackmailed, or worse. However, make sure your child knows you are always ready to support him if he/she feels pressured or bullied online, even if it is because they have done something dumb.
Protect your children online
Discuss things like scams, phishing, viruses, fake news and grooming before they are let loose on the web. There are a lot of resources out there for families about keeping safe online. Read them and use them. However, your children may already know more about it than you, so just ask them what they know and supplement where necessary.
Profit from the good things
Maximise on the good things of internet! There are so many great and interesting educational resources out there. Help your child find things that interest him/her and be willing, if you can, to invest in software and online courses that will benefit them. Also, enjoy crazy animal videos together with your children or any other entertaining YouTube channels that you both enjoy. There may also be good Christian communities, forums, YouTube channels and so on that your children can benefit from. Help your children find positive Christian spaces online.
Set boundaries, but be gracious
Boundaries are important, but they are different for every age and situation. We have a rule that we eat together without screens. Also, no internet before church on Sunday. See what works for you. Your children will make mistakes. So did you. So have grace, comfort, and learn from mistakes together. God is able to keep them from falling. May He have mercy on our children.