Unhealthy Influences Online

The Internet is a great tool for teaching and learning.  There are many benefits to using the Internet.   Obviously, however, not all websites and individuals online are appropriate or fit for our children.  As parents we need to ensure that our children aren’t exposed to influences that will harm them.  Two things online from which we want to protect our children are pornography and unhealthy worldviews.  Both of these can have damaging effects on young children.

Pornography

There are a lot of explicitly sexual images online.  Shockingly, nine out of ten children between the ages of 8 and 16 have viewed pornography on the Internet, in most cases unintentionally (London School of Economics, January 2002).  Filtering software is useful in blocking many of the sites that are inappropriate for children.  Unfortunately, these types of software cannot block all pornographic sites.  Some websites that display inappropriate images, disguise/intentionally mislabel their sites and are, therefore, not picked up by filtering software.  As a result, children can stumble upon pornography without meaning to do so.  Some pornography websites even use, as keywords, the names of children’s television programs, such as “Dora the Explorer”.  The best way to ensure children aren’t exposed pornography online is to actively supervise Internet use in the home.

Once children are exposed to these sexually explicit images, they may want to continue to view them.  Children who view pornography develop unhealthy views about the opposite gender and incorrect/unrealistic thinking about sex. These attitudes and beliefs, if incorporated at a young age, especially before puberty, can become a part of their core personality. Children who have viewed pornography extensively will likely need some type of therapy to repair the damage incurred through viewing sexually explicit images.

Unhealthy Worldviews

People online feel uninhibited – free to express whatever they think or feel.  Adult thoughts or feelings are not always appropriate for sharing with children.  Disturbingly, one in every five children (10 to 17 years old) receives unwanted sexual solicitations online (Youth Internet Safety Survey, U.S. Department of Justice, 2001).  Besides the risk of sexual predators, children or teens can potentially meet, online, people who suggest immoral, illegal or otherwise harmful behaviours or attitudes.  Children need time with appropriate role models, ideally mom and dad.  They need to be kept away from people who would model or encourage self-destructive behaviors.

Be the Role Model and Guide

In order to become your child’s role model, you need to spend time with your child. Model appropriate thinking and behaviour for your child.  Explain to your child what is right and wrong.  Guide your child’s use of the Internet by being in close proximity while he or she uses the computer.  To this end, it is best to place the computer in a public place such as the family room.  Some parents find it helpful to place their child’s computer on a desk right beside their own.

Pornography and unhealthy worldviews are two very real dangers to using the Internet. Parents are entrusted with the safety of their children.  It is vital that parents supervise Internet use and take whatever other steps necessary to mitigate Internet-use risks.  Parents should be the primary role models for their children.  To make this happen, parents need to play an active and positive role in their children’s lives.

© Celesta Thiessen

 
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