On a flight from Colorado Springs, Colo., to Chicago, I struck up a conversation with the woman sitting next to me. She is the mother of two boys, age 10 and 14, and recounted an incident that occurred when her 10-year-old invited a friend to spend the night.
When this mom came downstairs the following morning, she found a light had been left on in the den and noticed that the family computer was on. She checked the computer's browser history and was shocked to discover that someone had visited numerous pornography sites during the night.
She confronted her son later that day, and he tearfully confessed that his friend had shown him how to access the sites.
She spoke to the boy's parents about the incident, and they immediately checked their own computer. They discovered a long trail of inappropriate sites on their Web browser and soon learned that their 16-year-old son had introduced their younger son to the world of Internet pornography.
A proper Internet filter can help block pornography, but unfortunately, that isn't the only issue facing our kids today. Tweens and teens are abusing prescription meds, dabbling in sexual exploration and facing the very real temptation of alcohol at younger and younger ages.
Stories like these confront us with a hard truth: Today's world can be a hazardous place for kids. Our children are at risk in our communities, our schools — perhaps even in our own homes. I've listed a few statistics that will drive home this point.
- American children spend an average of 8 hours and 33 minutes immersed in media each day. This includes TV, radio, music, magazines, computers and video games.
- 68% of 8- to 17-year-olds have a TV in their room; 37% have cable or satellite access.
- 20% of 2-year-olds and more than 30% of 3- to 6-year-olds have a TV in their bedroom.
- More than 76% of children ages 3 to 17 have access to a computer at home.
- 64% of teens say they do things online that they wouldn't want their parents to know about.
- 37% of teens have smoked marijuana, 9% have used Ecstasy and 8% have used methamphetamine.
- 17% of 8th-graders, 33% of 10th-graders and 47% of 12th-graders have consumed alcohol in the past 30 days.
- 47% of high school students reported having sexual intercourse.
- 54% of teen girls and 55% of teen boys have had oral sex.
What's a Parent to Do?
When I share this information with Christian parents, the reaction is often shocked silence. While shock and despair are understandable, we have to remember that God is ultimately in control — and we are not called to be anxious or fearful. From that basis of strength, we can pursue a few pro-active strategies that help protect our kids from these negative influences:
Educate yourself about the risks.
Learn about youth culture, and stay informed about the issues that can influence your children. Two good places to start are PluggedIn.com, which offers insights about popular media, and Talking With Your Kids About Drugs and Alcohol, where you'll find effective drug-prevention strategies for your family.
An excellent book that will equip you to respond to the technology issues in your child's world is Logged On and Tuned Out: A Non-Techie's Guide to Parenting a Tech-Savvy Generation by Vicki Courtney. To teach your children about God's beautiful design for human sexuality, read How to Talk to Your Kids About Sexuality by David Scherrer and Linda Klepacki.
Provide love, limits and time.
Christian psychologists Henry Cloud and John Townsend believe the three things kids need most from their parents are love, limits and time.
Naturally, our kids need our love. They need our verbal and physical affection. They need regular doses of affirmation and encouragement.
Our kids also need limits. They benefit from knowing that there are clear boundaries for their behavior and what the consequences will be if they violate those boundaries. Our children need our guidance in order to face the many temptations in their world. Without it, they may end up making tragic mistakes that will have life-long repercussions.
Finally, our kids need our time. Far too many children and parents today are overscheduled and families are paying the price. It may sound cliché, but the wisdom is tried and true — our children need quality and quantity time with us.
Model a godly lifestyle.
Do your children know your standards regarding drug and alcohol use, sexual purity and the Internet? Are you modeling responsible behavior in these areas yourself? What type of TV shows and movies do you watch? What is your attitude toward alcohol and the use of prescription drugs? As you live out a life of integrity, your children will learn what it looks like to do the same.
Keep the lines of communication open.
Our children (and especially our teenagers) desperately need a listening ear. They long to know that they can talk to us about anything, even difficult issues like sex and drugs. When our kids tell us something that's shocking to hear, we need to be careful how we react. Rather than immediately getting angry or pointing a finger, we can ask gentle questions that will open a dialogue about the matter. Our children need to know that we're truly interested in their lives and that we'll come alongside them when they are struggling or facing temptation.
Make faith relevant in your home.
Our postmodern, relativistic culture is having a devastating impact on the faith of our young people, so it's crucial for us to be intentional about passing on faith to our children. If we give them a solid foundation of values and beliefs, they will have the tools to stand strong in the midst of temptation.
As we spend time with our kids, listen to their heart issues and live out integrity in our daily lives, they will see the fruit of our faith in action. Our children will be drawn to the Christian life when they have the chance to experience the fruit of the Spirit in authentic ways: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The lure of the world is far less powerful if we create a haven of faith within our own four walls.
It's clear that our children face multiple dangers and temptations. We can protect them to a degree, but we also must cast a positive, Christ-centered vision for their lives.
The body of Christ needs to become countercultural in the 21st century. Our culture claims the most important things in life are wealth, power, success, popularity and physical attractiveness. American children hear this constant drumbeat from their peers, from the media — perhaps even from their own parents. But Jesus calls us to a higher standard — one characterized by compassion, generosity, service and self-sacrifice. We can teach these to our children. We can encourage them to reach outside their circle of friends and "love the unlovely" — the kids at their school who may be unpopular, unattractive or lonely.
As we seek to teach, train and protect our children, we may be tempted to isolate them in a Christian cocoon. But Jesus told us to "go into all the world and preach the good news" (Mark 16:15), and our kids can't fulfill this command if we isolate them from the world. Do we truly believe God is sovereign and that He loves our children even more than we do? If so, we should do what we can to equip our kids, and then trust God to protect them even as they engage our unbelieving culture.
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This article first appeared in the March/April 2010 issue of Thriving Family magazine and was originally titled "Eyes Wide Open." Copyright © 2010 Focus on the Family. ThrivingFamily.com.
Dr. Bill Maier is a counselor, author and speaker on parenting issues.
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