Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My Teenagers, the Internet and All Things Screen-ish

When it comes to screens and their place in our lives, I am willing to venture that you will rarely come across two sets of parents who have made all the same decisions. It calls for wisdom and knowing our own kids. I think I seem pretty strict to many, not strict enough to some. I am going to share what we have decided just as one way that one set of parents have decided to handle things. I don't come as the one who has it all figured out, but more as the one willing to share in hopes of encouraging another parent to either figure out what is right for their family or perhaps to know they are not alone.

I think the important thing for Christian parents to always remember is that one day we will stand before God for the decisions that we have made in raising our children. I take that very seriously. My kids have to understand that I make my decisions based upon that truth.

This is what Jesus said: "But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and be drowned in  the depths of the sea." Matthew 18:6.

This teaching is reiterated in Mark 9:42 and Luke 17:2 so it seems to me that it is something God didn't want me to miss!!

I know that many would argue with me that teens are not children and that they need to make their own decisions. I do allow my teens to make every decision that they can possibly make but I do believe it is up to my husband and I to set the principles and outer boundaries. If we communicate well then it can be a teaching moment and our teens can be involved in the judgement of various areas. It is something I hope we talk about with them and they give their input as well. But the overall principle is: "But as for me and my household we will serve the Lord." Joshua 24:15

The verse I have really taken hold of for our standard concerning screens is in Psalms 101:3 which says: "I will set before my eyes no vile thing. The deeds of faithless men I hate; they will not cling to me."

Other rules are for their own protection. Even teens can make careless decisions that can turn out dangerous. I see myself and my husband as gatekeepers. I tease my kids that I don't want to wind up on Oprah, warning other parents not to make the same mistake I did! ;)

Having said all that, this is where we have *landed*:

~The Internet~
Laptops and Desktop computers stay where they are visible to all. They are only in the common areas of the house. The rule also applies to my husband and I. All three kids have ITouches. They stay downstairs in the common areas. They are not brought upstairs in the kids bedrooms at night. If they want to listen to music they can use their old IPOD Shuffles or the radio. 
I hold all passwords, ALL of them. I do spot checks on Social Networks, Email accounts and chat boxes. If they're online anywhere, I have the password. But here's the thing...they have mine too. Now if you send me an email, they are not reading it. Quite frankly they don't care. But they are allowed to access my Facebook and it's just an accoutability for me. For my 17 year old, we discuss who is good to have as a friend on Facebook and who is not. If someone is posting really inappropriate things they're either going to be blocked or we'll take them off the friends list. But we decide together. (However if I see something someone has posted on his wall that I feel is inappropriate I immediately remove it and THEN talk to him about it.) For my 14 year old, I go through the lists and I remove friends that are posting things I don't want him exposed to. Period. Usually it is someone much older than him and they're not chatting it up anyway. Once in awhile it is someone his age. But really, if they're using terrible language and it's something I wouldn't let him be exposed to in a movie, I am not going to let it come in the back door through a Social Network. I also go through their ads on Facebook that come up on the side bar.
Fortunately, this is not something my kids have given me a hard time about. They realize why I am doing this.
We do have screening software on the computers. Everyone knows that dad is a computer programmer and master hacker. He can track keystrokes if he wants, he has remoting software so he can see what's on any screen in the house at any time. Clearing histories or delete does not hinder us if we need to see something. Just knowing that is its own level of accountability.  It's just not an area we can allow privacy. Do we see every conversation? No. We spot check (because I don't need to be nosy, just vigilant). Does that mean something could get passed us? Yes. We teach and check and teach and check. Anyone, including me, is more than capable of sinning. We try to guard, we deal with discipline, restoration, and forgiveness when needed. We've not been flawless, but we're not naive enough to think that the internet is the only window for evil in the world, kwim?

~Cell Phones~ My 17 year old has a cell phone. Again, if I need to check chats I can. But honestly, it has not been a problem. I have a cell phone that I give to my younger two when they go somewhere alone. My husband has a cell phone. That has sufficed. Having my oldest two kids be boys, well they are not really into talking on the phone. So that made things much easier.

~Music~ We listen to predominantly Christian music. I love their music and they love mine. I've always enjoyed about every style of music, even rap and hip hop. I am not a big fan of screamer music but if the lyrics pass the test, it's allowed.  We check lyrics with nonChristian music and avoid bad language and provacative lyrics. I am strict on that. I hold myself to the same standard. So really it's not about how old the child is. It's about the standard we have set for ourselves and for them.

~Movies~ It's pretty rare that we watch anything that is not PG or G. We watch NO R rated movies. We rarely watch PG-13. We check Christian sites that review movies before we watch PG or PG-13 movies. Again, no exceptions based on age. My husband and I hold to the same standard and I am 45 years old. Again, the kids are so great about it. My oldest and I have only ever disagreed with one movie. In the end, it's just a movie. Who really needs it? And again, I stand before God for it so I err on the safe side!

~Television~ We have parental locks on the upper ratings on the TV. We have no HBO or anything like that. We've blocked some channels like MTV. There's just not enough good on it to justify letting it in. I am going to be honest. I've had shows on and my kids have told me they don't think I should watch it and I've changed the channel. In that way we keep each other accountable.

~Video Games~ Again, same standard. The boys love the sports games and my daughter hates video games so that helps. And now, there are some that have come out that allow you to input your own music on. When the band games were big, my husband and I picked the one that we could stomach (music-wise). They were pretty much a phase that is past. :)

It's honestly a little scary for me to put this out to the world because I know it opens me up to judgement. Just know that I have the same motive as I do when I put up a homeschool schedule. This is the way one family has chosen to keep things pure. It is not the only way; it is maybe not the best way. But we don't make those decisions lightly and this is what we think is best for us to live the life God has called us to.

My husband has always said: "Rules without relationships breeds rebellion." I believe that is true. When the parent/child relationship is strong, they usually don't want to rebel. They want to please. I say usually because we are all sinners and all rebel. All a person needs (child OR adult) is a good enough deception or *reason* to choose a different way and they're off like a shot. I have my own young rebellion story that I could tell. God is the perfect Father yet oh how his children have rebelled!! There are no guarantees. I stand before God for my parenting (and I am far from perfect, ask my kids!) and they stand before God for their obedience to the authority that God has placed over them.

I am thankful that my kids understand our standards and the "why" behind them. We don't argue about these things. They just "are." Has it been easy for them? NO WAY!! It's hard to feel different. It's hard to have to say "no" when you are out and about with friends. It's not fun. But best they learn to do that now. When they leave and are out on their own, the stakes only get higher. But we in are it together and with all my heart I hope we can stay that way.

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