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Connecting teens and wisdom online

Teenagers’ diaries no longer come with locks and keys. Nor are they hidden in drawers or under pillows to keep prying eyes from uncovering their secrets. Instead, today’s journals are open for all the world to see, transmitted around the globe via virtual community Web sites with catchy names such as MySpace, Facebook and Xanga. Tradition meets technology millions of times a day as teens and young adults log on to socialize and share music, videos and photos along with details of their lives. It’s that personal touch that worries so many parents: With highly descriptive narratives and personal photos, many of these sites have taken on a life of their own in a world few know much about. So, of course, the normal reaction is fear: uneasiness about the unknown, panic over highly publicized stories of predators. Safety first, we say as we lecture our children about stranger danger in a way our parents never had to.
But what if we gave this generation of Internet users some wisdom to go along with the warnings, so that when their monitors are no longer visible to us, they’re empowered to make informed, Christ-centered choices about where they spend their online time? What if we educated ourselves not to the point of alarmist behavior, but instead with the purpose of strengthening our spiritual and practical influence?
With these goals in mind:
Talk more, not less. — Ask your children about their “faceless friends,” just as you would the ones you see with them at youth group events or football games. Teens may reveal more when they think adults aren’t around, but that reality is blurred by catchy nicknames and partial truths. Help them sort out what they’re telling and being told, just as you talk about other aspects of their life.
Don’t cave to peer pressure. — Just as adults vary on every other decision that involves their children, so, too, will they about appropriate computer use and limits. Even though it may be tempting to adopt other parents’ guidelines, especially when they may be more popular or less confrontational, let spiritual maturity be your guide.
One strike doesn’t make an out. — An inappropriate conversation plays out on an instant messaging program. One teen uploads a suggestive photo to his or her site. Is it time to unplug the computer? No.
Mistakes — especially those with steps that can be retraced and rethought — are opportunities to teach discernment in online forums like these. Patterns of poor choices should be addressed more severely, of course.
Accountability goes both ways. — Self-discipline isn’t necessarily self-taught. Parents should be transparent about their own computer use while continually educating themselves about their children’s culture. Doing so will help their discussions about technology remain relevant and well- informed while keeping parameters adaptable to a world that often seems to be without limits. Teens need to know their parents aren’t clueless when it comes to the high-speed world of communications.
Ministry opportunities await. — When Christians carve a place for themselves in a non-Christian atmosphere, we call that missional. In online communities, just as the ones in which they live, teens can work for good and proclaim Christ.
Popular culture manifests itself in worldly ways on the World Wide Web, just as it does in print, radio and television. Godly groups of teens can, and do, effect positive change with a strong and responsible online presence.
Have we added another level of worry to the already gargantuan task of parenting?
Most likely, yes.
But when families approach the task together and parents commit to learn as much about their child’s world as necessary to keep them physically safe and spiritually centered, we’re all the better for it. And God, as he should be, is glorified.
Oct. 1, 2006

  • Feedback
    I’m a teenager, and was looking online for some place where I could interact with some Christian teens. You were the first site that appeared under google, and I’d like to know more.
    Westminster Presbyterian
    Lititz, PA
    December, 27 2009

Filed under: Editorial Staff Reports

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