Someone wishing for a phone or tablet? Santa’s got a few questions first.

A friend told me she wasn’t so sure she’d be giving her middle-schooler a phone with internet just yet. She didn’t think he was ready to have the world at his fingertips. Within a generation, we have progressed from World Book off of the library shelf to having the world in our pockets: the good, the bad, the ugly…. and the dangerous.

This holiday season a new generation of kids and teens will be ushered into the virtual world through their own personal phone or tablet. Like Alice and her journey through the Looking Glass, adventure awaits, but it’s far from a dream and parents would be wise to consider the child, their family values, and the relationship first. (I use him and her interchangeably.)

Thinking of giving a device? Some considerations:

  1. Is this child responsible and displaying growth in responsibility?
  2. Does your family understand your online rules and is there a plan of action for when inappropriate material comes up? Check out
  3. Do you have a filter set up on your home router and are you aware that it is not fail-proof? We recommend Covenant Eyes for filtering and weekly activity reports to spark good conversations.
  4. Are you having consistent discussions with this child about sex and porn? Google Images and friends have become the sex educators of our day, and most kids are seeing hardcore, violent porn much earlier than you would imagine. Parents, God will lead you, but you have to pray and begin these conversations much earlier than you think. Read some TrueNorth blog posts.
  5. Does this child have the emotional and spiritual maturity to work through the challenges of social media and is he willing to talk with you about them? Cyber-bullying, comparison culture, and sexting are some of the common challenges for kids today.
  6. Are you committed to maintaining the device password, researching requests for games, apps, other information, and talking with other parents about these as well? Check out Plugged In 
  7. Are you committed to nurturing the relationship with this child, who is about to be ushered into a whole new world online, and will need your attention, encouragement, and guidance in even greater ways? Though they may easily be drawn to the screen, they truly desire connection with you! Pursue that even more now!
  8. Are you trusting God with this child, but at the same time, committed to doing all you can to protect and guide her? Guard what has been entrusted to you!
  9. Are you and your spouse united on your approach to online activity, gaming, movies, etc?
  10. Do you have accountability online for yourself? Covenant Eyes is for grown-ups too, and it helps to model protection online.
  11. If you’re struggling with integrity online, are you actively working toward recovery? TrueNorth Freedom Project can help.

Some questions for the new virtual world traveler:

  1. Do you understand our family’s online rules, and how have you shown responsibility in this area already?
  2. Are you prepared to pay for monthly fees, insurance, and deductible or replacement cost of the device? Though parents may differ on this approach, worth your consideration. Be ready to explain how funds will be collected.
  3. You know that we’re going to monitor your online activity and that we’ll be discussing it? Covenant Eyes sends a weekly report to a designated person.
  4. Have you already seen porn online? If so, let’s talk about it. If not, let’s talk about it. Children are naturally curious and sexual things are interesting. Don’t shame, but do remind them of your values in terms of sex, that viewing porn can be very destructive and addictive, and how you want to be the one to teach them about sex. TrueNorth can help.
  5. How will you respond when you come across inappropriate, unsafe or disturbing people or images on your device? Encourage a quick turning away and coming to you to talk about it.
  6. Will you agree to give up the device for examination at any time without warning?
  7. If the online rules are broken, are you willing to accept the consequences?
  8. Will you keep screen time to a minimum (or to whatever limits established) and keep actual relationships, school, and faith as top priorities?

As you consider whether or not to allow a teen or child to have a device with internet access, let the Holy Spirit guide you, not culture. There is a wonderful world awaiting them, and in due time, they will experience the best and the worst of it. While they’re under your care, make sure that strong lines of trust and communication have been built, that they’re showing responsibility in other areas, and that they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you love them and are there for them, even when they fail or make bad choices.

As your children mature and are allowed greater privileges, encourage them and model the kinds of behavior you expect from them including the ability to admit failures, to right wrongs, to seek God first, and to love unconditionally.

For great resources on maintaining integrity in a sexualized culture, check out TrueNorth Freedom Project.

Anne Kerr

Founder and CEO of TrueNorth Freedom Project in Atlanta, Georgia

Photo Credit: Andrew Neel