Rev. Kleyn is pastor of Trinity Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan.
The e-world and our Teenagers
The e-world is all around us. Many of us do not know about it. Probably, some do not even know what the “e” in e-mail stands for (it means “electronic”). But its wires crisscross our lands, its ports of entry are found on every street, its wireless waves bounce around in airports, libraries, shopping malls, and in our homes, and unwittingly we come into contact with its secret tourists daily.
It is in many ways a secret world—something like the underground movements of the occupied countries of World War II. It is a world of passwords, aliases, secret communication, code language (I still don’t know what “lol” means), discreet relationships, etc. An unknown world to many.
Yet, whether we like it or not, the e-world is there, and it is real.
Many of the older generation (above 30) are familiar with it, but actually quite naive as to its real potential. The e-world can be quite frustrating to sporadic and elderly (above 30 or so) visitors. For example, we have almost all heard of e-mail, and probably most know how to use it, but our electronic skills stop there—”Forward an email? Save an address? Open an attachment? How do you do those things?” And how the younger generation can click from one thing to another, and find so much in such a short time, is beyond our comprehension. “Find what on the web? Where? How do you do that?”
This e-world can be very useful. For example, within an hour, from a laptop computer, running on a battery, with a wireless connection (something you can sit on the rooftop of your house with, or on the back patio if you prefer) you can,
1) reserve a book at the local library after searching for it in all the libraries within 200 miles—this takes about 3 minutes;
2) check your bank balances and make a transfer from one account to another—this takes about 3 more minutes;
3) go to the local weather page and make sure there are no storms coming to drive you indoors—this takes about 2 minutes;
4) start typing an e-mail to a relative on the other side of the country or world, and then notice that that person has popped up as on-line on your instant messenger, and so, instead, chat for a few minutes there—this will take up 5 to 10 minutes, but you did get to say hello, find out what they were doing that day, and arrange a Christmas get-together on their side of the world;
5) then you can go to a travel site and check prices on airline tickets for this Christmas getaway, and book and pay for them too if you like, as well as reserve a rental car at 50 % off and check out local hotels and tourist hot-spots—another 10 minutes or so;
6) then, you might be reminded that your utility bills are due, and so go to the phone and electric and gas company web-sites and pay those bills—which may take 15 minutes—so instead, you can go to your bankers page and ask them to pay those bills for you monthly right out of your account.
And so on.
Banking, e-mailing, instant messaging, news, weather, travel, up-to-date sports scores and radio from around the world, shopping (that’s big in the e-world), filing income taxes, online live college courses, and much more are all at your fingertips from your back patio with an un-wired 2-3 pound laptop.
Why am I writing all this? Because, whether you like it or not, the e-world is there and its going to affect your life somehow, and those effects may not all be good.
There are two things that are especially true about this e-world. The first, it is a dangerous world. The second, the experts and common visitors to this world are the young (teenagers).
These two things taken together mean that even if you want to ignore this world, or just use it to send e-mails (“How do you send attachments again?”), still it is likely to have a negative impact on you and your family through your children, and it may even be a tool that destroys the children, morally, spiritually, emotionally, and even physically. The older generation, the parents of teenagers, cannot be naive as regards this world.
The e-world is a growing world that is transforming the lives of people. Numbers of Internet users have risen sharply over the last five to ten years. According to Steve Almasy (in an on-line CNN report entitled, “The Internet Transforms Modern Life”), in the mid-1990s the top three web sites, AOL, Netscape, and Webcrawler, had audiences of 4 million to 6 million people per month. Today, those numbers have risen beyond one billion and are still growing. The ones who are growing with it, learning it, and staying in touch with its technology are the young, “the internet generation.”
These very young are also the very young in our covenant homes and Christian schools. Parents need to be aware. The e-world is the evil-world getting into our homes and lives. It breaks down the antithesis, it undermines parental supervision and instruction, it brings young people into unhealthy acquaintance with the ungodly, it becomes a tool for communication and rebellion between young people, it exposes them to the filth of the “sex-crazy” world, as well as exposing their identity to pedophiles and predators. These things are real. Our teenagers know it. And every parent needs to be aware of it.
On my desk I have an array of articles about children and Internet use and safety. I hardly know where to start with them. They all make a point, and the point is this, parents cannot be naive about this e-world.
It used to be that parents worried about the influence of television on their children’s souls. This should still be a major concern, but the concern with the Internet should be greater. The computer is not just an e-mail port, but a gateway to corruption and vicious enemies of soul and life.
One web site I ran across—safeonline.com—lists some facts about the Internet porn industry (back in March 2000, mind you). First, some facts about the industry are listed,
1. Over ten billion dollars spent on porn annually.
2. Larger than the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball combined.
3. Over two million known porn site URL’s.
4. More than 2,500 new sites coming online every week.
5. Pornography is obscenity, not “free speech,” and has never been protected by our Supreme Court.
6. Most of it is temporary and hard to find, to punish legally.
7. Most of it originates offshore, not covered by US law.
8. Unimaginable things that most people would not even remotely consider sexy are routinely available on the Internet.
Then, a few results of surveys that show the scale of the problem are listed.
1. Nine out of ten children aged between 8 and 16 have viewed pornography on the Internet. In most cases, the sex sites were accessed unintentionally when a child, often in the process of doing homework, used a seemingly innocent sounding word to search for information or pictures (London School of Economics, January 2002).
2. 25 million Americans visit cyber-sex sites 1-10 hours per week. Another 4.7 million in excess of 11 hours per week (MSNBC/Stanford/ Duquesne Study, Washington Times 1/26/00).
3. Even 51% of pastors say cyber porn is a possible temptation. 37% say it is a current struggle (Christianity Today, Leadership Survey, December 2001).
4. 63% of men attending “Men, Romance & Integrity Seminars” admit to struggling with porn in the past year. Two-thirds are in church leadership and 10% are pastors (Pastor’s Family Bulletin, Focus on the Family, March 2000).
5. 1 in 7 calls to Focus’ Pastoral Care Line is about Internet pornography (Pastor’s Family Bulletin, Focus on the Family, March 2000).
I say, an enemy to the soul. What is pornography, but that? It is a strong appeal to base sinful sexual desires. It destroys minds, homes, marriages, children, and more. And it is at the fingertips of those who happen to have an internet connection, at the fingertips of our children.
Probably one of the greatest threats to teenagers is the latest method of e-communication called blogging. “Blog” is short for “web log,” which is an online personal diary page. Blogs have combined the technology of e-mail, live chat, and personal web pages all into one. A person sets up his own web page with whatever personal information he wishes to reveal on it, then begins an on-line journal. Whenever that person posts a blog, it enters the public domain. Others (buddies) may subscribe to receive notification of new blog entries, but anyone may browse and read. These personal blog journals expose a person and all his/her peers (buddy-list subscribers), completely, to whoever wants to see them; their names, thoughts, activities, address, age, and more all become public information. The main blog sites are Xanga.com, livejournal.com, and myspace.com.
There are really two main dangers with blogs.
The first is the exposure of vulnerable teenagers to predators. This is a real danger. I have on my desk four different true stories of sexual predators tracking down and assaulting teenage bloggers. The most recent is the story of Taylor Behl, a seventeen-year-old who vanished from Richmond, Virginia in September of this year and whose remains were found a month later at an abandoned farmhouse. According to thisWashington Post story of October 25, this teen met her killer online and exchanged messages regularly on two popular social networking sites, myspace.com and livejournal.com, prior to meeting in person. Her family was not aware of her blogging, nor her relationship with the 38 year-old, unemployed, amateur pornographic photographer with a criminal history.
What happens with these blogs? This. The lurkers are there, the teenagers post with aliases like “sexyteen05,” “hotchic4U,” etc., they tell of their address, weekend activities, etc., and invite comment from lurkers, they arrange for meetings, and the rest is often sad history.
This is only one danger. It is less widespread, but real nonetheless. Especially when the teenagers put themselves out there as looking and desperate, using language and aliases with sexual inuendos.
The other danger is more widespread. On each blog page is a list of buddies. Each time a buddy is clicked on, it takes you to his page and his list of buddies. Soon, very soon, teenagers can be reading about and making acquaintance with other teenagers (local) who are involved in pornography, drugs, drinking parties, fornication, Sabbath desecration, cursing and bad language, movie attendance, etc. Every blogger is exposed to this. And it is all so real and so close to home, and sadly, many parents are oblivious to it.
It goes something like this. A teenager sits down on a Friday afternoon to write a blog entry after a stressful day at school. Mom and Dad are not home for the evening and there is nothing to do. He notices someone has posted a comment in response to one of his blogs in which he indicated he had nothing up Friday night. It is an invitation to join them at a party promising chicks and beer. It is really that easy. And it can go in so many directions and lead to so many unhealthy relationships, web sites, parties, etc.
Another danger is blogs of rebellion. Teenagers feeding on each other on their sites, to stir up rebellion against teachers, parents, pastors, and others in authority. An article entitled “Bloggers Learn the Price of Telling too much” (CNN.com, July 11, 2005) makes reference to this.
(At) times the ease of posting unedited thoughts on the web can be ugl(y), in part because of the speed with which the postings spread and multiply.
This is what happened at a middle school in Michigan last fall, when principals started receiving complaints from parents about some students’ blog postings on Xanga. School officials couldn’t do much about it. But when the students found out they were being monitored, a few posted threatening comments aimed at an assistant principal—and that led to some student suspensions.
“It was a spiraling of downward emotions,” says the schools principal…. “Kids just feed into that and then more kids see it and so on,” she says. “It’s a negative power, but still a power.”
These are stories not hard to imagine and identify with, even in our own circles. To think otherwise is to be naive.
All this brings home the importance of parental guidance and supervision in the home and in the lives of their teenagers in the area of internet usage. Parents need to warn them, to lead them, to monitor them, to talk with them about these things.
I finish this article with five Internet safety tips from software4parents.com.
1. Tell your child to NEVER EVER reveal their name, address, phone number or any other personal information to ANYONE online. Once you give out this information, it is impossible to retract.
2. Communicate regularly (not just once) with your child about WHAT they do online and WHO they talk to online. If you have actually met the friends they are talking to in person, you’ll know it is OK for them to chat with them online.
3. Take computers out of kids’ rooms and put them into public areas such as the family room. Many parents think they are helping with homework by giving the kids a computer, but it also opens certain dangers that you may be unaware of.
4. Choose your child’s screen name, email address or instant message name wisely—don’t reveal ages, sex, hobbies, and CERTAINLY NOT suggestive or sexy names. Predators are more likely to pursue a child with the screen name “sexyteen5” than “happygirl5.”
5. Use technology to help you protect your child. Monitoring software gives you the ability to review your child’s Internet usage. Even if you don’t look at each and every email or instant message they send, you’ll have a good idea if they are making smart choices online.
The Internet can open many doors and provide useful information for children. An aware and informed parent can help keep children safe.
It is another aspect of our battle with sin and the world. May God help us in it.