The influence of the Internet on our Children

by Dr. AD Hart

Over 60% of children andteenagers partake in ‘chat rooms’ on a daily basis. Three out of four children are willing to share personal information about themselves and their family online in exchange for goods and services. It is also true that at least one out of five children will be targeted by a predator or paedophile each year.

Thus the Internet is an extremely popular ‘fun and games’ venue for young people to visit. Why talk about this? Because the Internet, together with its wonderful advantages, unfortunately also holds hidden spiritual, emotional and even physical dangers for ‘innocent’ teenagers.

How do you know at your age when you are treading dangerous ground? Chatting with your friends on-line or via cellular phone is commonly known as social media. Social media can take many different forms, including Internet forums, weblogs, social blogs, wikis, pod casts, pictures, video, rating and bookmarking. Technologies include: blogs, picture-sharing, wall-postings, e-mail, instant messaging, music-sharing and voice over IP, to name a few. Many of these social media services can be integrated via social network aggregation platforms like Mybloglog and Plaxo.


1. What is a blog?

A blog is a type of website, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of what is happening in his/her life. Many blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject; others function as more personal online diaries

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Online_diary). There are different ones: art (artlog
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artlog), photographs (photoblog)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photoblog), sketches (sketchblog)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sketchblog), videos (vlog)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vlog), music (MP blog)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MP3_blog), and audio (podcasting)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Podcast).

As of December 2007, there are more than 112 million blogs worldwide. Some examples: Twitter, Plurk, LiveJournal, Vox etc.

Be on the alert:  Pray for God's wisdom when you partake in blogs. Be careful of the kind of personal detail you share, and how you share it. Do not speak negatively of other people. Often friends have misused such\ information when they feel jealous of or angry with each other.


2. What is photo & video sharing?

People put photos and videos of themselves online, because it is then easy accessible to friends and others. Of these sites, YouTube (videos), Flickr and Photobucket (photos) and ccMixter (music) are more or less the most well known.

Be on the alert:
Always tune your heart into the voice of the Holy Spirit when you watch these videos or photos. If anything is not uplifting or blasphemous, promoting un-Biblical values, make a decision not to watch that any longer. Also encourage your friends to do the same.


3. What is a virtual world?

A virtual world is a computer-based simulated environment intended for its users to interact via avatars (computing). These avatars (or alter-egos) are usually presented as textual, two-dimensional,
or three-dimensional graphical representations. The computer-simulated world works by presenting a model based on the real world or some hybrid fantasy world. Communication between users range from text, graphical icons, visual gesture, sound, and balance senses.

Be on the alert
: Ask the Lord how much time you should spend partaking in these different options. Normally all teenagers spend too much time on the Internet and virtual relationships and contact with ‘other’ Internet friends. The dangers are that the 'virtual world' becomes a person's 'real world' and they struggle to actually discern between the ‘virtual world’ and reality after some time. It is very important to keep in touch with real life and not live in a fantasy world or try to escape into a world that seems to have no consequences.


4. What is the thing with online-games?


Multiplayer online games create a computer world very similar to the real world, with real-world rules, real-time actions and communication. Communication is usually textual, with realtime voice communication. Virtual worlds are not limited to games. Sometimes, emoticons or 'smileys' are available, to show feeling or facial expression.

Be on the alert:
Make sure you as a Christian pray about it all the time and think well and carefully how you spend your time in this computer world. Ask the Lord to show you if the games you play are bringing you closer to what He is like, and to help you limit the time that you spend on these games. Do not compromise; just give up things that will jeopardize your relationship with the Lord Jesus. Also encourage your friends to do the same. Remember that you need to spend quality time with your loved ones close to you – do not be selfish with your time, otherwise it may develop in unhealthy life-patterns on the long term.

5. What is a chat room?

Chat rooms are designated areas where people with similar interests can ‘get together’ to talk. The conversations happen in real-time. By simply typing on your keyboard, you can immediately talk to someone on the other side of the world. There may be a moderator in a chat room that monitors the content of the conversation in order to prevent abuse. Moderators have been known to shut down a conversation if the content is deemed unacceptable or inflammatory. A chat room is a way to learn, talk and socialise, but the fact that it is so easy to be anonymous has led to abuse of the system. Children and teens love chat rooms, and reports of the dangers of chat rooms are widespread. There are many irresponsible adults who use chat rooms anonymously for their own entertainment. Parents need to be aware of who their children are talking to in chat rooms.

Be on the alert: How do you know when you are 'at risk' when chatting in a chat room? The easiest way to determine this is to ask yourself if you would be comfortable for your parents or an adult to walk into your room at any time and read the conversations in your chat room at any time. The same goes for the Lord. Ask Him to help you not to chat to people you don’t know, who might be posing as someone other than they really are. When the Holy Spirit prompts you on these issues, take special care to listen to His voice. Also never use foul language, get involved in online arguments or gossip.


6. What is free online speech?

The Internet has made long overseas chats easier and much more affordable than traditional telephones. Programs like Skype, Google Talk (GTalk), Nimbuzz and Fring are some examples of programs that help you to chat (text, audio or video) with another person anywhere in the world. There are often people from other countries who want to connect with someone in South Africa with the intention of escaping from their own countries. They do this in deceptive ways, like enquiring about tourist attractions in South Africa, only to obtain personal information from you, like where you stay, what you do etc.

Be on the alert:
Make sure to change your settings so only those people in your address book can contact you. NEVER give out any personal information about yourself that may assist another person in finding out where you stay, where you work, etc. Ask the Lord for discernment and wisdom on what to do when someone you do not know contacts you.


7. What is MXit?

 

MXit is an IM (Instant Messaging) application that runs on your cell phone (PC versions are also available), which allows for real-time chatting in one-on-one conversation or inside chat rooms, at a fraction of SMS costs. Maybe the most significant example of the abuse of young children through a technological medium so far in South Africa, is the case of a 16-year old girl who was abducted by a 33-year old man she met through MXit chat room. MXit is free to download, and free to register, meaning no monthly fees. You can send messages back and forth in real-time (instant messages). The maximum length of these messages is 2048 characters compared to a normal SMS at 160 characters. MXit has about 2 million users, the majority being between 12-17 years old and smaller groups aged between 18 and 25.

Be on the alert: Never give your cellphone number, full name or physical address to strangers and never meet a stranger from a chat room in real life. On the other hand, ask the Lord to show you how you can share things about your personal relationship with the Lord Jesus with some of your friends on e.g. MXit.


8. Stay connected with real people:

Social media is an unhealthy substitute for real friendship. It can literally destroy family relationships in the end because it allows people to live in a virtual world where they can say what they want with seemingly no consequences. It isolates you from your friends and family, and prevents you from building real and lasting friendships because you are always in contact with ‘other people’. There is no real commitment involved in Internet and virtual relationships. Astonishingly enough, people are getting lonelier in the process. You cannot share the depths of you heart, your real pain, deepest emotions and tears with a human being that seems faceless to you and whom you do not know personally – the electronic media cannot replace that vacuum.

Be on the alert: How do you know if your social skills are deteriorating? When you and your friends spend more time chatting online than face to face, it is a red light. If you start and end relationships by e-mail, chat rooms or via SMS, you are in a danger zone of becoming socially isolated. Ask the Lord Jesus to tell you how to conduct your personal relationships with people in a healthy way.

[Teenagers have developed their own 'lingua franca'. There is a detailed list of SMS and Chat abbreviations being used by teenagers on their cell phones, MXit and the Internet.]
http://www.phelios.com/sd/archives/sept04.html).

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