It would be impossible to imagine life without the Internet. Imagine trying to do your work, attend classes, contact people overseas, find out and share information without the easy online access that we have today. And imagine trying to resume some semblance of life in this time of Covid-19—with restrictions making it harder to meet and near impossible to travel—without the Internet.
Yet, many of us parents worry about the great influence that social media and the online world have on our children, leading us to wonder if we need to set stricter boundaries about Internet usage.
lt doesn’t help when we come across disturbing statistics. Young people in Singapore spend anywhere from 3 to 6 hours online each day, and as a result, face online threats such as gaming and social media addictions, exposure to pornographic and violent content, and possible contact with sexual predators.
Naturally, knowing the dangers that our kids are exposed to online, many of us would seek to reduce their use of social media, to protect them from getting addicted or being influenced by what they see online.
But before we jump into the list of remedies to take, let’s first take a step back and ask: Is the Internet really leading our teenagers astray?
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The Real Problem
To be sure, the widespread use of the Internet by our children increases the likelihood of them being influenced by what they see. For instance, pornography and violent content is just a click away.
But the Internet is also an important enabler of communication, learning, and entertainment. Online meetings and classes have become an integral part of school life, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
So, the Internet is merely a technology platform that allows the exchange of both good and bad content. So if it’s not the platform that is the problem, then what is?
The real problem is the human heart, where all sorts of evil spring from. The Internet is merely an external platform for what is expressed out of the heart.
The encounter between the Pharisees and Jesus in Mark 7:1–23 could shed some right on this issue. Seeing some of Jesus’ disciples eating food with hands that were ritually unclean—that is, without performing a ceremonial washing—the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands? (v.5)”
Instead of answering their question directly, Jesus responded by calling the Pharisees “hypocrites” and criticising them for being merely concerned with human traditions while setting aside the true intention of God’s commands. Our Lord was not interested in their external pious deeds, but in the condition of their hearts.
Perhaps some of our concerns about our environment and external influences—like the media and the Internet—are similar. We might think: if only we can cut these off, or put in some form of control and regulation—a form of “ceremonial washing”—then we would solve the problem.
But Jesus, in Mark 7:15, observes the contrary:
Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.
The real problem is the human heart, where all sorts of evil spring from (vv. 20–23). The Internet is merely an external platform for what is expressed out of the heart.
The solution, then, lies in dealing with the heart, and not merely trying to change a child’s Internet usage. As Proverbs 4:23 urges us: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Unless we—and our children—have a change of heart, controlling our use of technology will not make a significant difference. Even if we succeed in getting our kids to act appropriately, unless they are radically changed from within by becoming a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17), the best we can hope for are behavioural modifications.
The Real Remedy
How, then, can we help our children have a change of heart? The answer is: Jesus Christ. He is more than able to deal with the issues of the heart, as the healing of the paralysed man in Mark 2:1–12 shows us.
Everyone present saw that the man’s need was to be able to walk again. But that was his need on the outside; Jesus saw another need—inside the man. To Jesus, that was clearly the greater need, for He told the man: “Son, your sins are forgiven” (v.5).
Only Jesus can deal with the sinful heart of man, because only He can do what God can do—forgive sins. This pronouncement by Jesus pointed to what He would finally do on the cross—take God’s judgment for our sins upon himself so that God would forgive us.
In the same way, what lies beneath our addictions to and abuses of the Internet is our sinful hearts that desperately need Jesus’ powerful rescue. While the natural temptation for us as parents is to try to address and correct our children’s behaviour, we would do well to continually pray for their hearts and expose them to the saving gospel.
What lies beneath our addictions to and abuses of the Internet is our sinful hearts that desperately need Jesus’ powerful rescue.
How can we do this? By spending time with them and teaching them the Word of God. Deuteronomy 6:4–9 remind us of our God-given responsibility to teach our children God’s Word. If they learn to love the Lord with their whole being from young, they will be better able to evaluate what they do—both online and offline—and consider whether God will approve of what they are doing.
As we keep praying for our children’s hearts to be transformed, here are some practical things we can do:
- Teach them principles that would help them to evaluate the content of whatever they see on the Internet.
- Take time to talk about the sites they are visiting and discuss whether these are “healthy” or good for their souls.
- Draw up boundaries on sites that we believe are not good for our children, so as to protect them.
This article was first published in Age of Opportunity, a publication of Singapore Youth For Christ, and is adapted with permission.