“You’ve got mail.” Remember those three magical words? We’ve come a long way since then.
Instead of waiting for a friend to respond to an email, we now have the world of social networking—nearly instant contact.
Of all the social networks, Facebook is by far the largest. If Facebook users (over one billion) were a country, it would be the third largest in the world. One in every seven people in the world is on Facebook.*
Social networking is a great way to connect people. But along with the many benefits come the negatives as well.
This Internet world in which our young people live is a precarious one. Teenagers who may be uncomfortable making friends can now create an identity of who they desire to be. Those who are timid and have a hard time connecting with others may become bold when behind a computer. You may have experienced it: someone in the church (regardless of age) who rarely talks surprises you by the opinions and views he or she boldly proclaims on Facebook.
Sometimes young ladies can portray a lifestyle they may not intend to convey. Our world proclaims that sensuality is beauty, and often that message influences our young ladies. By mimicking the poses of models seen in malls, magazines, and advertisements, girls run the risk of appearing sensual as they send and post photographs of themselves, alone or posed with friends.
Along with the thrill of establishing an identity via social networks comes the allure to dabble in areas that are risqué. The temptation to stand out and gain attention can cause young people to fall into the trap of the now-common thrill of “sexting”—sending sexually explicit messages and/or photographs, primarily between mobile phones. According to a recent survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, one in five girls have sent or posted nude or seminude pictures or videos of themselves. Often these decisions are made quickly and without thought of long-term consequences.
Living in a generation that thinks nothing of proclaiming to the world all their mundane activities from day to day (or even hourly), the concept of privacy is somewhat muddied. Too much information is made available to the rest of the world—not just one’s name, picture, and age but where one works or goes to school, attends church, and buys pantyhose (along with the brand!).
It has become a well-known fact that sex offenders have preyed on the vulnerability of young girls with social network accounts. They might pose as a classmate in the same school who pretends to have a crush on her or even as an officer trying to catch perpetrators. Young girls are at risk, and more often than not, they don’t even know it.
What are we to do? How can we protect our children and help them understand the dangers of those who would seek them out with evil intent?
Understand that as the parent, you have the privilege and the responsibility to set boundaries. Talk with your children and make them aware of your rules. (This is also a perfect subject to be discussed in a Today’s Christian Girl Club meeting.) Just as a child cannot know the dangers of running into a busy street without being taught, children do not always realize the risks of inappropriate computer (or telephone) behavior without instruction and supervision. It is our responsibility to keep them safe.
- Take time to sit with your children and explain the dangers they are facing in today’s technological world. Explain what a predator is and give age-appropriate examples of instances where a child was harmed. Let them know they are at risk. Instead of the “Don’t do that” lecture, try “What do you think about this? Do you know kids who’ve done it? Why do you think it would be dangerous or unwise if you posted something like that?”
- Explain their bodies belong to them. Once they expose any part of their body and post the picture, their body then belongs to the Internet world. The repercussions of such an action could haunt them for the rest of their life.
- Consider having teens turn their cell phones/computers in to you at a certain time each night so the temptation is alleviated for after-hours activity when you are fast asleep.
- With the help of your child, list both the positive and negatives of social networking. Discuss how people can embarrass themselves when they post negative comments or reveal too much information about their feelings or current activities.
- Explain that you will be checking their activities from time to time—not to spy on them or because they are not trusted but so you can ensure their safety.
- Require your children to “de-friend” people with ungodly comments or photos.
Today’s generation has afforded us with many wonders of technology. With those discoveries come new ways the enemy can lure our children. Let’s be proactive, and not reactive, so that our children can be safe.
*Statistics as of this printing
Debbie is married to Jonathan Sanders, pastor of The Rock Kailua in Kailua, Hawaii. She is the mother of three daughters and director of Today’s Christian Girl, Ladies Ministries, UPCI. Debbie also serves as Ladies Ministries president for the Hawaii District.