I have a twelve year old in sixth grade. The more I talk to parents, the more I am mindful of how clueless many of us are about raising our kids in the internet age — an age that only recently came into being. It is even more difficult to raise your kids in a world where you may have Christian values, but the world is increasingly hostile to those values.
I actually recently pitched a television show idea on this. How do we, as people of faith, raise our kids in the twenty-first century? How do we co-exist with people who do not share our values without selling out our values? How can people of faith be in the world without falling into the trap of being of the world? How do we help our children experience the world online and off without losing their souls? In our present age there are not many clear voices on these subjects. One thing I am increasingly clear on is that your kid probably does not need a cell phone and even if your kid does need a cellphone, he absolutely does not need Snapchat.
The internet and, in particular, social media on the internet is nothing more than the Devil’s playground where idle hands go to cause trouble. Social media more often than not brings out the worst in all of us. You giving your child access to it on a cell phone, tablet, or computer at a time your child is beginning to figure out his or her own body and dealing with hormones and puberty is just asking for trouble. The internet is a tool and just as our children are figuring out the changes in their bodies, the changes in their feelings, and the changes in their personalities, we are giving them access to something we presume they can figure out. Most of them are doing a terrible job, but their parents are doing even worse.
It does not matter that your child might have bought his own cell phone. It does not even matter if he buys his own cell phone plan. If he is in high school or younger, you really do have an obligation to check in and make sure he is responsible. Snapchat, because it is so ephemeral, is perhaps the worst place for your kid to be. The site came to fame by allowing people to send messages that then disappear. It is the favored tool of high school kids to send explicit pictures that disappear so there is often no proof. And if there is no proof and no record, are you sure your little angel is not being a devil on his phone? The truth is you probably do not know.
I more and more frequently hear from parents who are worried about it. They find out fights are starting in group text messages or via social media. Their children are being bullied or bullying other children without them even knowing. And so few even think to check their children’s phones or deny them access to Twitter, Facebook, or Snapchat. Just because all the other kids have it does not mean yours should have it. In fact, that often means yours should not have it. Bad things are happening there and you might find out too late to curb your child’s behavior or protect him from a monster.
My wife and I have installed a device called Circle on our home wifi system. It lets us regulate the time our children are on the internet, which apps they can use, and which websites and YouTube videos they can view. It is not a substitute for active parenting, but it sure helps. I just cannot caution you enough on this. Your child really does not need a cell phone. It may be more convenient, but it is not necessary. And giving your child access to the Devil’s playground just as their body begins its migration to adulthood places an unfair burden on them that neither they nor you will see as a burden until it is too late.