Katherine Lester was in love.
This was no schoolgirl crush. She had met the man of her dreams and was prepared to travel half a world away from her Michigan home to be with him. Never mind the fact that Katherine was a sixteen-year-old honor student and her "dream love" was a twenty-five-year-old man from Jericho, Israel, on the West Bank. Katherine told her parents she was traveling to Canada with some friends in order to get a passport. On a tip from the FBI, however, U.S. authorities were able to meet up with Katherine and persuaded her to return home before she reached the West Bank.
The young girl met her "true love" on MySpace.com. She almost met an uncertain fate with a man she barely knew in a country that's not exactly a haven for Americans these days. So why would a bright, intelligent young girl put herself in harm's way over a guy she met on a social networking website?
Fortunately, Katherine's story had a safe ending. I wish that were always the case. Sixteen-year old Jenny thought she was meeting a fellow teenager but instead was met by a much older man who brought friends. Fifteen-year old Jason thought he was meeting a cute sixteen-year old girl named Kim in the mall parking lot. Instead a man pulled up and told him that he was Kim's dad. He said Kim was running late and that he would take Jason to their house. Kim, of course, was a fictional character.
What's All the Attraction?
The appeal of MySpace and other social networking systems is the fact that they give every account holder a place to feel they belong. During the adolescent years, teens and preteens are driven by seemingly contradictory passions. They want recognition without being recognized. The need for peer acceptance is high at this age, but so is the desire to establish a personal identity. Social networking sites give teens and preteens the feeling that they can have both-to stand out without being singled out.
On the personal expression side, these online hubs offer kids the opportunity to create a completely unique page that's all about them-and no one else. Each user can set up his personal profile. They can also blog (cyberslang for a "Web log," this is simply an online journal or sorts) their deepest or silliest thoughts about anything and everything. And they can post pictures-as many as they want, of whatever they want.
At the same time that they're expressing themselves, kids can get to know other people with similar interests. These sites offer kids a place to hang out and meet friends-usually without parental consent-that they likely would never encounter without the worldwide reach of the Web.
What Can Parents Do?
At this point we have a couple of options available to us. We can choose to rip the computer out of the wall and forbid our kids to ever go online at home again-which will assuredly make them even more determined to find their way back online without parental supervision or involvement. Or we can look as objectively as we can at this new "community" our kids are finding online.
What you're reading right now is the result of many hours of researching and soul-searching by a couple of concerned dads on behalf of millions of other parents and grandparents. So here are a few steps you can take to Internet protect your kids:
1. Keep the computer in your home in a public place. The most basic way to Internet Protect Your Kids is to make sure the computer in your house is kept in a public place. Depending on the size and configuration of your home, an area like the living room, entertainment room, or even the kitchen is suitable. Under no circumstances should a child in your home have unlimited access from a computer in his own bedroom-ever. There are too many "accidental temptations" awaiting a young child who misspells a word while doing a search for a school project, for example. Or a teenager who's savvy enough to cover his online tracks while browsing hundreds of pornographic sites. Placing an Internet-connected computer in your child's room may be a mistake you've already made. If you've allowed this to happen, correct it-now!These are just a few examples of how you can begin to Internet Protect Your Kids. If you found this information helpful please see explore the full content of the book Internet Protect Your Kids.
2. Set up any profiles, email, or IM accounts that your kids may use. Any email or IM account created for a child must establish by a parent. The same holds true for establishing a profile on a social networking site such as MySpace or Xanga. And for kids who split time with their parents because of a divorce, both mother and father need to establish an Internet protocol that will be in effect in both households.
3. Monitor Cell Phone and IM Activity. Many parents are more willing to give their child a cell phone than to condone unlimited Internet access. But the reality is the two are often used in tandem. Online connections can be initiated via email or instant message, and then culminated on a cell phone0or vice versa. That's why it's crucial to get printed copies of your or daughter's cell phone bills each month and read them to verify the charges are accurate. May cell phone service providers are encouraging their customers to settle up their accounts each month online, so make sure your provider knows you expect a hard copy of your bill. Also, require your children to provide you with full access to their instant messaging online and text messaging on the cell phones. No access, no use.
4. Prohibit Access to the Internet from Computers Outside Your Home. Do not let your children access the Internet from computers outside your home without the supervision of adults who understand and support your values. This might seem easier said than done, but once you start sharing your own views on Internet safety with other parents, you'll be pleasantly surprised to discover most parents are of the same opinion.
The above piece is an adaptation from Internet Protect Your Kids: Keeping your children safe from the dark side of technology by Steve Arterburn and Roger Marsh. Nashville, Thomas Nelson Inc, 2007.
Stephen Arterburn is the founder of New Life Clinics, the largest provider of Christian counseling and treatment in North America. As host of the daily New Life Live! radio program, he is heard nationally on over one hundred and eighty stations and at www.newlife.com. Steve is the lead speaker at The New Life Weekend, a conference with specialty programs for Marriage, Anger, Fear, Boundaries, Depression, Weight Loss, Abuse, and Forgiveness. Steve is also the creator of Women of Faith® Conferences and the author/coauthor of over fifty books, including Healing is a Choice, Lose it For Life, The God of Second Chances, Every Man's Battle, Avoiding Mr. Wrong, Reframe Your Life, and Midlife Manual for Men.