Shortly after college, I worked for the Sales Director of a large corporation in Sacramento. At one of the many sales-related dinners we hosted for our clients, he told us how he had recently purchased a car for his sixteen-year-old daughter. Apparently, this was something he had done for all four of his children.
My critical skepticism must have shown on my face because my manager started to chuckle. He explained the “terms and conditions” of this gift. Each child had to read and sign a contractual agreement upon receiving keys:
- No radio during the first year (he always removed it)
- Maintain 3.0 or higher GPA
- Wash vehicle weekly
- Perform scheduled maintenance on time.
Any failure to fulfill their end of the contract resulted in suspended driving privileges.
A contract (as long as it’s enforced) is an excellent idea because it provides a son or daughter with clearly defined expectations and consequences. Most of the time, we parents essentially hand the keys of a giant weapon to our new driver and cross our nail-bitten fingers.
Even with all the pre-license training, 16-19 year-olds have the highest risk of motor vehicle accidents. Imagine how many more accidents would happen if we failed to teach them?
We take so much care with driver’s training, yet so little care with technology training.
Our electronic devices provide children access to one of the most powerful and dangerous tools of our age—the internet. Occasionally, we are lulled into a false belief that parental controls will prevent our children from being “one of those kids”—those who post inappropriate pictures, suffer from bullying, or get lured away by predators.
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Instead of blindly handing out devices, let’s lay down some ground rules and do some solid training. A written contract—posted conspicuously in the house—would be a great tool for everyone! Sit down and write some rules and expectations and have everyone sign the agreement.
Here are some other things we should actively teach our kids (and practice ourselves):
#1: Only “friend” your real-life friends
Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, or some other online forum, limit correspondence and connections with strangers. Only “friend” people you actually know.
#2: “E” is for “Evidence”
In the aforementioned corporate job, we had a saying: “The E in E-mail stands for ‘Evidence.’” Inappropriate email use often led to termination or other disciplinary action. Over the past few years, high-profile careers have been decimated over improper electronic correspondence.
Cybercrime units have figured out how to access data many of us think lost. If they can do it, people with less-than-honorable motives can do it too.
That seemingly intangible evidence has very tangible consequences.
#3: What you do in the dark is seen in the light
You may think nobody will see that half-naked selfie—until your ex-boyfriend shares it with half the school.
One night, you saw a picture of one of the less-popular girls and commented, “ur ugly.” Such comments seem harmless and hidden—until someone commits suicide. Even if nobody finds out what you’ve done online, God always knows.
#4: Oh be careful little hands what you type
Several years ago I read about a woman whose promising career was destroyed by a single tweet—a tweet that went viral. If you wouldn’t announce it on a crowded bus, don’t post it on social media! You never know who’s reading…
#5: Consider your future
What we post today could affect us tomorrow. These days, prospective employers often examine an applicant’s social media accounts to get a pulse on their character and values. Social media is like an unofficial resume—use it wisely.
#5: It can wait
My kids know that using the phone and driving is my biggest pet peeve. If we use my iPhone to play music, I hand it to the kids before we drive away. I want them to see and remember that a driver shouldn’t use a phone while driving—period.
It only takes one distraction at the wrong moment to cause a fatal accident. The phone can wait. If it’s truly that important, find a safe place to pull over before checking your messages.
#6: Spend more time off-line than on-line
Most devices come with useful little timers and my children are required to use them whenever they get device time. They only get to use their tech for limited periods and only after they’ve met their obligations—homework, chores, etc.
Encourage your kids to spend time with friends and family in person. Spend time playing board games, jumping on the trampoline, or going on bike rides. Plan for some window shopping or a some other intentional “date” with your kids. Disconnect from tech in order to connect with a soul.
#7: Think before you “like”
Our online profile should reflect our offline character. If your character is bad, it’s time for some heart changes.
As Christians, how we behave online should be no different than how we behave offline. Be mindful of what you give approval to, what you type, text, share, etcetera. Don’t like, share, or post something to detract from the light of the gospel. God doesn’t differentiate between the “virtual” life and the “real” life—both result from our choices.
Tech is here to stay. I haven’t even covered performing searches, using YouTube, or many other internet rules. Our kids need to know how to use it just as they need to learn how to drive. Decide on your family’s technology rules and have everyone agree to them. Don’t hand children the keys to the internet without training and guidance. It’s our job to guard our their hearts and shape their character in this ever-changing world.
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Elihu Anderson is a surviving California native currently thriving in West Texas. When she isn’t writing for Elihu’s Corner, she is teaching, researching, walking, and book-worming with a cup of chai. Visit Elihu at elihuscorner.com