Nearly 75% of all teens have access to a smartphone according to Pew Research. This can be observed in a walk down the beach where kids are looking at their phones instead than enjoying the waves. Seeing young teens staring at their screens rather than each other is becoming a common sight. But what are these teens doing on these devices? More importantly, what is your teen doing on them? As Christian parents, we need to be much more diligent than the world in knowing what is out there and what harm it could have on our children. We certainly cannot lock away our teenager until they turn twenty to avoid this problem. But we can educate ourselves to the dangers access to these devices can have.
In this article we will examine 3 types of apps that you may find on any typical teen’s phone or tablet. Most open the door to sexual predators, or exposing personal items about themselves that should not be…but all have the propensity to expose your teen to things unhealthy to their spiritual development. Today’s parents have to be even more mindful than ever to protect their children from exposure to adult content, pornography, and sexual predators. Predators are no longer restricted to physical contact with children alone and unsupervised at the park or street. Now they enter your homes through your child’s I-Phone or tablet.
The days of waiting for the telephone to be free in order to talk to your friends is over for this generation of teens and pre-teens. In the modern environment of tablets, smart phones, and other wifi capable devices, teens today expect instant communication through an abundance of apps where they can chat, send photos, video, or share moments of their lives with the world. However, the predators seeking out these children once warned of in school programs like Stranger Danger to the past generation of kids, have also entered the modern era.
Messenger Apps are designed to allow texting through certain downloadable apps. One of the more popular is called Kik Messenger.
Kik allows teens to text unlimited characters to their friends who are using the same app. It creates an instant social connection. According to the developer’s website, “Over 40% of American youth use Kik to chat, browse and share with their friends.” But this has not been without issues. Child predators have also been using Kik to make contact with potential victims. In an interview in 2014, “a pedophile told The Trentonian newspaper: ‘I could go on it now and probably within 20 minutes have videos, pictures, everything else in between off the app…That’s where all the child porn is coming off of.’” Another news outlet posted a story here where another pedophile describes his use of the app. In addition, the app has also been used to deliver explicit images by spam bots.
Text now is very similar to Kik except this app actually provides a number that teens can hand out to their friends. This is very popular with children who do not have their own phone. Just as above, this opens the teen to exploitation and unmonitored activity as warned by police in this 2012 news article shared here.
Temporary Social Apps
Temporary social apps are designed for sending information such as messages, pictures, and other content to someone else that will be automatically deleted within a certain time period. This gives the user a sense of privacy allowing them to share things they believe will not last forever. As a result, many teens have used this to send inappropriate photos of themselves, only to find out the user on the other side was able to save it. These apps have also been used in cyber-bulling, even leading to the attempted suicide of one 12-year-old girl. Listen to her father’s interview here. According to Snap Chat, one of the most popular of these apps, 23% of their customer base is in the 13-17 year-old range. There are few legitimate reasons for using these apps, and none that I can think of for a young teen.
Of this type of teen app these are some of the more popular:
Anonymous Apps are designed to allow the user to express feeling and thoughts anonymously. Some apps like Omegle allows them to talk with random strangers about any topic. Others like Whisper are confessionals where the users post things they do not want anyone to know in the form of memes anonymously. Most of these anonymous post or chat sessions are sexually explicit. Other are intended for solicitation using geo-tracking options or data to find people near-by. All of them are dangerous to young minds and safety.
The more popular of this type of teen app are:
Why These Apps are a Problem and What You Can Do?
Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” It may seem like an innocent request from your teen to use the 21st century equivalent of the telephone to connect with their friends. But allowing contact does not have to mean giving up restrictions and parental controls to not only guard them against predators, but also guard their minds from filthy images and content. It is the parent’s number one responsibility to lead children in the ways of the Lord, to develop in them a knowledge of biblical truth. Social contact with friends, I’m afraid, is nowhere near the top of list. However, we do not need to be insensitive to their plight. The fact is, communicating with other friends through their devices can be done safely with certain restrictions in place.
Handing a teen a smartphone with a data plan is a recipe for disaster. If you do this, you are hoping that they make wise choices, (just like you did right?) while at the same time giving them a pile of temptation. Providing protection and restrictions begins with biblical instruction. The “why” to the reason for not allowing certain interactions should be explained in biblical terms. Explain the proverb above, review Psalm 119:37, set the instruction so that as best as possible your diligence in protecting your Christian teen is a cooperative endeavor. When they see the benefits in following biblical instruction they will also be on the path towards keeping themselves pure.
But instruction is not enough. You cannot trust your teen to make good decisions, especially in the light of the peer pressure they can face. Having parental control over these devices is paramount. Here are some basic and practical things you can do.
- No data plans: Do not allow your teen’s devices to have data. Data allows your teen to access the internet without any filtration or control.
- Use Source Based Internet Filtration: This means having a filtration that blocks inappropriate material at the DNS/router level, rather than just at the device. Browser apps are available that filter the internet but they can all be bi-passed easily. Rather kill it at the source so when even your teen’s friends are over using the Wi-Fi, they cannot access adult material. Read this blog from Tim Challies for a good plan to follow.
- Set Restrictions on App Downloads: On IOS and Android devices you can setup restriction passwords and set the maturity level for apps. This will prevent apps being downloaded without your permission.
- Control your teens Apple ID: Or just don’t give them one. When you give them an apple device, an apple ID must be setup. Either use your own or assign one you have access to. This way you can monitor what apps have been downloaded, text, and other content.
- Review Apps and Text: Check you teen’s device and text. Your child’s protection is more important than their privacy. But make it clear that this is part of the deal with having such a device.
And above all, make sure as I mentioned above, all your conversation about apps, texting, and social media is saturated in the bible. Christ should be the center and being more like Christ your teen’s motivation for wise choices in using this modern era of communication. This should be a continuing conversation involving your teen rather than a top down decree.
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