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The Internet, Teens, and Privacy

  • Mark Gregston HeartLight Ministries
  • 2007 11 Nov
  • COMMENTS
The Internet, Teens, and Privacy
In today’s news it was reported by North Carolina’s Attorney General Roy Cooper that MySpace, the web’s most popular website for teenagers, is also actively used by at least 29,000 registered sex offenders. My guess is that they aren’t on MySpace to share recipes or to discuss politics.

I don’t have to spin tales about how things in the modern world are far different from when we were teenagers; we already know they are and the statistics of the number of kids affected are alarming. But what some parents don’t know is how to effectively balance their teen’s privacy and protection. Do you have a tough time balancing “need to know” with providing your teen “some private space?”

For instance, some parents feel unease, as if they are being sneaky or are in violation of their child’s trust, to investigate their child’s activities on the internet.  As one who daily sees the outcome of some of these cultural influences, let me set your mind at ease about monitoring your teen’s activities, on or off the internet.

First and foremost, I believe that a child needs and deserves privacy, but he also needs to know that you as a parent will go to no end to find out what he’s into if it begins affecting his attitudes and behaviors.  After all, what he’s into, or the hold an outsider may have on your teen through the internet, may ultimately harm both him and your family. He may be too embarrassed to reveal it, or he could actually be afraid or feel threatened.

Follow your instincts. If you feel there is something wrong, there probably is. If you sense there are secrets abounding around you, there probably are. If something tells you your child is hiding something, you’re probably right. But when it comes to the internet, more care must be taken even if there is no outright cause for concern.

Get a Handle on the Internet…Even if Your Teen Shows No Signs of Trouble

The internet is one of the top dangers facing kids today. More rotten stuff happens on the internet than any place on earth, and you don’t have to cooperate with it or allow any of that to come into your home. Here are some tips for parents to get the internet under control:

1. Make it a home policy that parents must know all electronic passwords. This gives access if needed. Have access to their MySpace account for your monthly monitoring (or better yet, don’t allow them on that site at all, which is the stance that some schools are now taking).  Add yourself to their “friend” list to be able to roam around on their site. Make their profile private, so that only approved “friends” can communicate with them.  A little monitoring goes a long way. If they refuse, disconnect or don’t pay for their internet access.

2. Put a high-quality internet screening/blocking software on the computer. Maintain appropriate blocking levels on the browser software (blocking access to certain web content, links or photos) and don’t back down on that, even if your teen complains that it blocks some popular sites like MySpace or the music downloads he wants to make.

3. Take the computer out of the bedroom and put it out in an open area with the monitor visible from various angles. Don’t allow access unless you are in the room.  After all, would you let just anyone, even a registered sex offender, into your house to talk to your teen?  Of course not.  That portal to the outside world needs monitoring.

4. Periodically view their internet “browser history” and follow the trail. You’ll be amazed. Software is available to secretly record their every move, if needed, especially if you think they are accessing the internet overnight or when you aren’t home.

5. If you feel there is a good reason to do so, read their email.  And find out who it is they are chatting with. As much as possible, keep them from accessing chat rooms, which is where most sex offenders and predators reside.  

This is not a license to be over-controlling to the point where it pushes your child away. I’m encouraging you to be proactive and not have to face the regrets that come with “not knowing.” The fact is, kids are actively being stalked on the internet today and in their typical daring way they welcome the excitement of it all and they love role-playing in chat rooms.

I often say to teens, “Violation of my policy means violation of your privacy.” If they violate my set house rules, including internet usage rules, it should also change their expectation of privacy. If they are dishonest and lie to me, I will seek, search, and look in areas I don’t normally look in order to find answers. If they are deceptive, I will investigate. If they lie, I will pry. If they hide something, I will seek relevant information. Why? Because, as a parent, I am concerned about the life of my child, and I am responsible maintaining a sound and safe environment in the home until my child becomes an adult.

If your children are young, implement rules now to help keep you “in the know.” As your kids approach the teen years, update or add some new rules. Unless something in your teen’s life is out of control or there has been a recent change in the behavior, mood, or school grades, then a parent should keep in the know by just “looking around” and keeping an eye on things. 

Tell Them You Are Watching

All parents must “keep a vigilant eye” on teenagers today.  Call it an “alert mom or dad,”  or an “involved parent,” if you will.  Be a parent who says, “I will continue to be someone who has your back, even when you don’t realize the serious nature of what you’re getting in to.” Let your teens know it is your job as a parent to keep your eyes wide open to look for anything going wrong.  Not so you can “catch them doing wrong,” but so that you can help them from falling into that trap.

If things are really spinning out of control, then it is time to have a “change of rules” discussion with your child.  This means you’ll be even more vigilant about monitoring.  The teen’s response will be, ”YOU JUST DON’T TRUST ME!”  And your response can be, ”It’s not that I don’t trust you…It’s that I hope to trust you more.” This statement tells your child, “I don’t want to control you, I want to be able to trust you, so use this opportunity to show me that I can trust you more than I ever have.”

I believe in privacy. I believe in trust. But I also believe in “being there” to be the parent God has called me to be. If I see anything that concerns me, then it must be brought out into the open, shared, and discussed. I tell kids that I sleep with one eye open. I’m always looking for something that has the potential to destroy a relationship with them.  I tell them that I’m looking out for them because I don’t want any unwelcome thing to intrude into their life. 

Do you have any comments, suggestions, or ideas on this topic? I haven’t previously opened up the blog articles to comments, but if you have one about this issue, or ideas of how you’ve handled this in your household, or even horror stories of what you found once you started being more vigilant, please add them to the comments section (in the original blog at www.markgregston.com) for all to read and benefit from. 

Mark Gregston is a radio host, author and the Founder and Executive Director of Heartlight Ministries. To read more of his blogs on parenting troubled teens, please visit www.markgregston.com/. He can be reached at 903-668-2173 or markgregston@heartlightministries.org.