Is There A "Right" Way To Handle Internet Use At Home With Teens?
The Internet is rotting the world.
Okay...so that's an exaggeration. Yes I love Facebook. Yes I panic when I accidentally leave my smartphone at home. And yes I just Googled how to unclog my garbage disposal. (Thank you very much, YouTube. You just saved me from calling a plumber.)
But as a mom of teens, YES I worry, worry, WORRY about the Internet's impact on my kids, and the threats that lurk within its dark corners. (Can I get an amen, parents?) Naturally this worry causes me to research and reach out and commiserate with friends.
So here's my question: how do you handle Internet use at home with your teens?
There are A LOT of opinions on this topic but I'll get the conversation started with the advice and "house rules" from two youth pastors who have been called into many situations regarding Internet-related difficulties in the home (ex. pornography addiction, Internet addiction, video game addiction, texting and sexting inappropriateness, cyberbullying, and more).
What's their advice in a nutshell? The more secretive the practice, the more dangerous the situation.
Here's the context for their advice: If family members are using Internet-connected devices in private spaces of your home, it's more likely to eventually lead to private and socially isolating activities online. Conversely, if you create a culture in your home where using the Internet is restricted to public spaces of the home, your kids will be online less, will use the Internet in healthier ways, and will look at less explicit material. In general, the more secretive the practice, the more dangerous the situation. Addiction counselors say it over and over: Secrets keep people sick.
So how do these two dads apply this advice in their own homes?
Two Homes, Two Different Rules, One Common Principle
The rule in Adam's house: Practically speaking, no one (including Mom and Dad) is allowed to play video games, work on laptops, or use any other Internet-connected device in a room alone. Even when someone's home alone, that person uses the computer in public spaces, such as the living room, as opposed to in a bedroom.
The rule in Marko's house: Our rules have the same spirit as Adam's, but maybe not the same firm boundaries (maybe because we're lazier parents, maybe because we're less idealistic, since my kids are older than Adam's are!). Perhaps because of the mix of my kids both being teenagers, my son being good with money, and me having access to hand-me-down laptops, we currently have five computers for the four of us. Each of us has a laptop, and there's a central "family computer" on a desk in the family room. Our general practice is that online surfing, hanging out in social media-land, and other non-homework practices are done in public spaces (often on the family computer). Homework can be done in a bedroom, but with one parent in the loop. And when we went through a period where boundaries had been crossed by our oldest, we firmed up the rules a bit more, to where she wasn't even allowed on her cell phone in her bedroom.
What do you think? Would rules like this work in your home with your teens, or do you think they're too strict?
This content includes excerpts from A Parent's Guide To Understanding Social Media: Helping Your Teenager Navigate Life Online
Mark Oestreicher (Marko) is a veteran youth worker and founding partner in The Youth Cartel, providing resources, training, and coaching for church youth workers. The author of dozens of books, including Youth Ministry 3.0, Marko is a sought-after speaker, writer, and consultant. Marko lives in San Diego with his wife, Jeannie, and teenage children, Liesl and Max. Marko's blog: whyismarko.com
Adam McLane is a lifelong student of youth ministry, a veteran youth pastor, and mentor to an ever-expanding web of students and adults. He is a partner at The Youth Cartel, a full-service consulting firm specializing in helping churches, business, and ministries connect with teenagers, young adults, and youth workers. Adam and his wife, Kristen, live in San Diego, California, with their three children, Megan, Paul, and Jackson.