Keeping the ‘Internet Generation’ safe online
August 16, 2013
HOUSTON — Today’s kids were born into the Internet generation. Beyond just their laptop or desktop computers, young people have a multitude of ways to access the Internet — cell phones and tablets to gaming systems, iPods and Internet-connected TVs — that allow them constant access to each other.
Free Wi-Fi hotspots and 4G cellular technology have made the Internet more mobile and accessible than ever before. With the latest numbers from the Pew Research Center showing that 95 percent of all teenagers ages 12 to 17 are online, the level of interaction through texting, gaming, photo and video sharing and other social media has reached an all-time high.
The Catholic Church is fully aware of these numbers. In his 2009 message for World Communications Day, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI challenged young people to use such technology to share the Gospel in these new arenas, saying “it falls, in particular, to young people, who have an almost spontaneous affinity for the new means of communication, to take on the responsibility for the evangelization of this ‘digital continent.’”
Unfortunately, as the number of young people going online have increased, so have the number and intensity of negative interactions, such as cyberbullying, exposure to inappropriate material and contacts from online predators.
Teens are sharing sensitive and private information online, often not aware of both the immediate and long-term consequences. New mobile apps allow users to share pictures and messages that “disappear” after being received, though other apps have been created specifically to save these messages.
The Communications Department of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA) have launched www.faithandsafety.org, a resource for adults to help children safely navigate online. The website and complementary social media channels (twitter.com/faithandsafety and facebook.com/faithandsafety) address safe use of the Internet, mobile devices and other technology, emphasizing the positive use of technology to support children’s faith.
The initiative is funded by a grant from the Catholic Communication Campaign, which receives donations from U.S. Catholics.
“Our children look to their parents for wisdom and guidance. However, many parents feel somewhat ill-equipped to help their children traverse the unfamiliar terrain of the digital social world,” said Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Church in America. “This joint initiative between our two Churches is a positive step in helping parents equip their children in the digital world. We have a responsibility to the Lord Himself who said, ‘Let the children come unto Me’ (Mt 19.14).”
“Faithandsafety.org is intended to be not only a set of practical tools and guides for adults, but also a place where they can find a faith framework for conversations with their children about the need to be ethically and morally equipped when they go online,” said Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Communication.
Content on the site includes mobile app reviews, how to address issues faced by children online, such as bullying, and resources to educate parents on protecting their home networks.
Some of the simplest methods to keep your family safe are dialogue and accountability. Parents need to continually talk about online safety with their children.
Consider setting up an online contract as a family that clearly defines the boundaries for Internet usage, how and when they use the Internet and permissible behavior. Both parents and kids should sign the contract.
Parents should also regularly check to see where their children are going online. The goal is not to spy on your kids or to find out everything they have been doing online, but to promote a healthy conversation about how to use technology appropriately.
Most importantly, parents should model for their children how to use the Internet safely and appropriately. Parents are considered the biggest influence on what kids see as appropriate and inappropriate “digital behavior.”
In the end, Internet safety for our children is all about active, involved, loving parenting. It is one more aspect of growing strong, faith-filled Christian families.