The internet is more than the elephant in the room. It’s the Godzilla that ate the room with the elephant in it. (The elephant was TV.)
It’s that big. And hairy.
Let’s take stock. It took radio 38 years to reach 50 million listeners. To accomplish the same thing it took television 13 years.
The internet reached 50 million users in 4 years. Yes, FOUR.
Facebook added 200 million accounts in under a year. Smartphone apps hit 1 billion users in only nine months.
In the 60 Second Marketer Nicole Hall says that, “in all likelihood, more people own a mobile phone on the planet than own a toothbrush.”
Canadians spend more time online every month than any other country in the world. And according to an American study, 53% of teens would rather lose their ability to smell than their social networks.
Okay, sure Matthew, the internet is ginormous. So what of it?
I have young kids. Some of you do too. And they’re growing up in a world with touch screens, YouTube, Instagram, and global leaders who can bypass mainstream news with social media.
What will it be like when they’re teenagers? Or in their twenties?
If you think our technology is advanced now, it’s just the beginning. It will continue to push forward at a pace that will make Gold-medal sprinter Usain Bolt look like a turtle in comparison.
So as I think about that world—whatever it may be—here’s an accusation I never want my future tech-savvy kids to make:
“Dad, you didn’t respect my privacy online.”
Here’s the thing. I’m the parent. They’re not. I know more about what’s out there than they do. I know the dangers, they don’t.
I also know—or, at least, I should know—that any picture I post is public forever and uploaded to servers I can’t control or erase.
And I know that a growing expanse of sexual predators can find and manipulate pictures, especially in accounts that are open and unprotected.
I also know that enduring trust with children is hard to earn and easy to lose. And when they realize what they say and do in the home isn’t safe, and is being freely shared (and re-shared) with people they don’t know—and into a future they’ve yet to live with future relationships, jobs, and kids of their own—they may feel that home was never the safe sanctuary they were told it was.
Don’t get me wrong. I sometimes like to share pictures of my kids online. It’s fun. It’s like a widely-accessible photo album. But whenever I do it, I imagine having a conversation with my future 16-year old son or daughter about it. If I think they’d be okay with it, then so am I.
The key is simply to pause before you publish, and think it through: ‘If I was my own parent, and if I was about to post this, would I be okay with this being seen by everyone, forever?’
Nothing ever truly disappears from the internet.
I’m no prophet, and I don’t want to be a fear monger. But I think we’re standing on the verge of an age of litigation by children against parents. As they mature, I think many of these children will claim that their parents didn’t respect their privacy online, and that their parents failed to educate themselves and warn their children against social media predators, dangers, and the emerging anxieties in children as a result of social media interaction and other technology-based addictions.
It’s not up to schools or governments. They’re not the parents. You are.
In Mark 3:25 Jesus says: “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” He was talking about something else, but I think it’s a good word for parents in the internet age. For my part, I don’t want to be guilty of breaking a sacred trust just because I wanted to get some laughs or likes online.
The key is simply to pause before you publish, and think it through. Would my future son or daughter be okay with this?
Have fun online. But respect your kids.
You’re the parent. And they’re a child made in the beautiful image of God—a vulnerable child who has been entrusted to you for your loving care.