Internet Safety Tips
About the Guest
One hundred and sixty eight. That's the average number of texts a teen types in a day. Author Brian Housman, founder of 360 Family, gives parents some practical advice for keeping their kids safe on the internet.
Brian HousmanBrian Housman has been working with parents and teens for more than 20 years. Brian speaks at many conferences, churches, schools, camps, and military bases each year. He has led student and parent programs from coast to coast as well as several international locations. He is the author of Engaging Your Teen’s World and Tech Savvy Parenting. He is the executive director of the 360 Family Conferences. Brian and his wife, Mona, have two teenagers of their own. Besides loving...more
One hundred and sixty eight. That’s the average number of texts a teen types in a day. Author Brian Housman gives parents some practical advice for keeping their kids safe on the internet.
Internet Safety Tips
Bob: Our kids today are growing up in a social media culture. Brian Housman says we can try to pretend like that’s not true; or we can figure out how we’re going to deal with that, as parents.
Brian: My daughter, just a few weeks ago—I was in the living room; and I hear her shrieking from her bedroom, “Dad!!!’ I come running in there—which, I think she’s hurt—you know, because she’s screaming. I walk in her bedroom, and she’s got her cell phone. She points it at me and she goes, “I just got my first picture on Instagram® with 100 likes!” I looked at her like: “You’ve got to be kidding me?! That’s what you called me in here for?” But, to her, this was a big deal! I think that gets into the whole issue of texting addictions—is our kids feel like they have to be always on.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, March 24th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. So what do we do, as parents, as we’re raising children in a Facebook®, Twitter®, and Instagram culture?
How do we make sure they’re protected, and what do we do to make sure they can still form healthy relationships? We’re going to talk about all of that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I saw the statistic, just this week—was it 168?—that’s the average number of texts, per day, for somebody who is a teenager?
Dennis: Have you seen how fast they can type? I want you to know that I seldom feel old—I have a lot of energy / I’m excited—but when I watch these teenagers—[Laughter]
Bob: You watch them type with their thumbs?
Bob: Remember, back in the day, when it was just a numeric pad?—and they had to know how many?—one, two, three, four—those were the guys that I thought were pretty impressive—the ones who could do that.
Well, I want to ask our guest today, Brian Housman: “How many words a minute can you text?” [Laughter]
Bob: With your thumb!
Dennis: I barely made an average of 40 words a minute in typing in high school. [Laughter] These kids—they really can whirl them out there; can’t they?
Brian: They can! Well, I think I can beat you if we’re doing a contest with typing on a typewriter or a keyboard—I could take you to school—but when it comes to a cell phone, my kids obliterate me!
Bob: It’s amazing.
Brian: Oh, man!
Dennis: It really is.
Brian: It’s insane!
Dennis: Well, there’s a reason why Brian Housman is a little upset that his daughter can type faster in texting than he can. It’s because he’s the author of Tech Savvy Parenting. He spent a number of years being a high school administrator. He founded 360Family in 200—speaks to parents and teens. He and his wife Mona have two teenagers.
I’ve got to get to this subject of texting one more time. What are the rules in your household about texting and driving?
Brian: My son—when he got his license—the day that he got his driver’s license—he had to actually sign a driving contract.
Part of that driving contract—there were very few things that we said on it; but one of the concrete statements was: “Under no circumstances are you allowed to text while driving.”
Bob: “Can I text at a stoplight? If I’m there and the light’s red, can I pull out my phone and text then?”
Brian: You know, I don’t want to get legalistic about this!
Bob: You know how teenagers are, though!
Brian: I know.
Bob: They’ve got these contracts. You’re really just saying, “For safety’s sake—
Bob: —“put the phone down. Leave it alone. If it buzzes, ignore it. You don’t have to look at it right away. Just keep driving.”
Dennis: I’ve got to talk about data usage—extra costs for the amount of usage of a cell phone. Do you have an agreement around that with your kids?
Brian: You know, it’s funny you asked that because, now that both of our children have cell phones, probably the last four months, in a row, we’ve gotten that polite message, saying, “You’ve exceeded your data usage.” So, what we’re telling our kids is that: “If you exceed the data, then you have to pay the excess.”
Dennis: I knew a young lady, who was a teenager, who confessed to me that she was on her eighth phone. She had dropped them on the floor / she had dropped one in the toilet. [Laughter] Do you have a policy on breakage and flushing? [Laughter]
Bob: Or do you have insurance on all your phones?—which is it?
Brian: Well, I do have insurance on my phone because, if anyone’s going to drop it, it’s actually probably going to be me and not my kids! [Laughter] They seem to hold their phones as if they’re holding a gold brick—they take good responsibility with it.
One of the things that we do with our children and with their phones, concerning finances—and we’ve done this, not just with phones, but with all major purchases in their lives, since the time they were six years old—is that they have to go in halves with us. I remember, ten years ago, when our children wanted a Nintendo Wii®. They were just little kids—I think they were like six and seven at the time. I just said: “Hey guys, that’s a pretty big purchase for our family. I don’t mind us getting that, but you have to be willing to pay half of that; and I’ll pay the other half for Christmas.”
So, here it is—my seven-year-old is having to learn financial responsibility—and they really took care of that Nintendo Wii. The same thing for my daughter—she has to pay part of the cell phone bill: “I bought the phone, but you have to pay part of the bill every month.”
Dennis: Oh, really?
Brian: Yes, absolutely! I mean, I know I could pay it.
Dennis: Your daughter’s how old?
Brian: She’s 14.
Dennis: And what part of the bill does she pay?
Brian: She pays ten bucks a month.
Brian: So it’s not that big of an expense—I know that I could pay it—but I feel like it’s, not just teaching her financial responsibility, it’s teaching her how to appreciate the things that she has. The things that you invest in, you tend to take better care of yourself.
Dennis: Okay. Let’s talk about texting addiction because you speak about that in your book.
Brian: I think one of the reasons why our kids struggle with texting addiction is because technology has created this narcissistic culture, where we live in this world where technology is used.
Now, we have “YouTube stars.” We have people that have millions of followers on YouTube, just by posting silly videos of nonsense. Yet, we’ve got tens of thousands/hundreds of thousands of people who are following them, just talking about nothing.
Brian: Our kids are constantly distracted by how many followers they have and how many likes they have. My daughter—just a few weeks ago—I was in the living room; and I hear her shrieking from her bedroom, “Oh, my gosh! Dad!!!’ I come running in there—which, I think she’s hurt—you know, because she’s screaming. I walk into her bedroom. She’s got her cell phone; and she points it at me and she goes, “I just got my first picture on Instagram with 100 likes!” [Laughter]
I looked at her like: “You’ve got to be kidding me?! That’s what you called me in here for?” But, for her, this was a big deal! I think that gets into the whole issue of texting addictions—is our kids feel like they have to be always on. They don’t know how to disconnect from technology because they think, “I’ve got to always have access or be available in case someone needs me.”
Bob: So talk about what technology is doing to the way our kids are relating to one another—
Bob: —the way they’re thinking about life, and themselves, and their spiritual lives.
Dennis: And their relationships.
Brian: Right. Well, technology has really changed two things in the way that our kids relate to the world. It has greatly changed the way that they live out and understand community. Whereas, you and I, when we were kids—I remember, when the sun came up in the morning, I was out the front door. I can remember riding my bike for miles away. As long as I was back home by the time mom had dinner on the table at six o’clock, we were good to go.
Brian: But that’s just not the culture we live in anymore. Today, our kids—they don’t go outside. They have lost the understanding of self-play/of self-creativity. Now, we have to create that kind of thing for them—technology creates it for them. If they’ve got a screen—they can access games, they can access scores, they can access the news—anything they want, right there, with the screen in front of them.
So now, to have friends—they don’t have to see each other, face to face. They can just stay in their bedroom and have ten conversations simultaneously on Snapchat®, Instagram, Vine®, and Twitter.
Bob: So, what’s that going to do to them, as they grow older and try to form interpersonal relationships—real relationships with real people—and get married someday?
Dennis: Yes, they can’t be answered or asked in a phrase?
Brian: Right, right. Well, actually now, think about how many people we know—I’m guessing you probably know people, yourself, who have gotten married because they met each other on some match website.
Bob: Sure, sure. I think it is one in five weddings today are technology-assisted weddings.
Brian: Right. I don’t know the data—the studies haven’t been done yet—but I wonder just what kind of / how that might reshape their own marriages because of the way the courting process was so different.
Bob: I mean, true confession time. We have—Mary Ann and I—been propped up in bed with screens in front of both of us—her and me; right?—and emailed each other while we’re sitting there in bed; right? [Laughter] We’ve done that. Have you done that with Barbara?
Dennis: No, I’ve never done that. [Laughter] We have texted each other in the same house, however.
Brian: We have done that!
Dennis: But not in the same bed. [Laughter]
Bob: We’ve been there—passing stuff, back and forth, and playing Words with Friends® while we’re, side by side, in the bed. So, I get how the wired life works; but we had a foundation, before technology was there, of looking in each other’s eyes and talking about hard things. I just wonder if the average 20-year-old today knows how to do that?
Brian: Yes. I think one of the things that it has done with that whole relationship [dynamic] is—when the typical child—and when I say “child,” we’re talking about preteen / like eight to twelve years old—when they are using technology, they assume that the other people that they are friends with are just like them—
—which is one of the reasons why Congress—we have a federal law called the COPPA Act—the Child Online Protection and Privacy Act—that requires that you’re not allowed to gain any personal information from anyone under the age of 13. So, all of that information is protected. But Consumer Reports did a study, last year, to find out how many, under the age of 13, children are on Facebook. It’s roughly 58 percent of all 12-year-olds in America—
Brian: —have a Facebook account.
Brian: Absolutely! Now, of those children, who are on Facebook, 80 percent of them—their parents said that it was okay for their child to lie in order to set up a profile.
Bob: Because you’ve got to be 13 to be on Facebook?
Brian: Exactly. You’ve got to check the box, saying, “I’m 13,” which is a heavy bar, by the way.
Brian: We’ve really set the standard! We’ve made it difficult. [Laughter] So, now, we’ve got over half of all 12-year-olds in America on a website that they’re not supposed to be on. What they do, then, is—they assume that everyone on this website is just like them.
Brian: Now, what’s happened is that they’ve gotten used to—when they were six, seven, and eight, going on websites like LegoClub.com or PollyPockets.com or—you know, those kind of things—that nothing inappropriate about those sites—but, at a young age, they’re learning how to live in community, online. You share your Lego creations, and you share your digital animal pictures, and playgrounds, and things like that, online. Then, all of a sudden, they get to 11 or 12 and they join Facebook. There’s that assumption, in their mind, as a young child: “Well, I’ve shared my pictures before. Well, there’s no problem with me sharing my pictures now.”
Brian: They don’t understand that the people they’re making contact with or are in community with are not just like them.
Brian: The typical parent says that their greatest fear with technology is that their child will be contacted by a stranger. It’s a well-warranted fear because over 65 percent of all teenagers admit to having conversations with people that they have no idea who it is in the real world—they only know this person, digitally.
Nineteen percent of those teenagers set up a face-to-face meeting with the stranger.
Just let that sink in, parent. If you’re letting your 10-, 11-, or 12-year-old be on Instagram because you think your kid is more mature than the other kids their age, there’s a great probability that your child may set up a face-to-face meeting with that stranger because they think the stranger is just like their buddy at school.
Dennis: Okay, let’s move to sexting. First of all, define what it is because there may be a couple of listeners who don’t know what sexting is.
Brian: Well, sexting is defined as any kind of a sexual conversation, or a sexual dialog, or photographs texting by means of technology. It’s basically—the primary way it is happening is through the cell phone. You know, kids get into inappropriate conversations with one another through the cell phone.
Dennis: The Atlantic had an article in it, not too long ago, about a Virginia town that woke up one morning and found out that 100 of its girls, from middle school and high school, had pictures of them being nude on Instagram.
Dennis: And they had a major police detective pursuit of that. It almost sounded like the police gave up because it was so normal at the high school level.
Brian: Oh, absolutely!
Dennis: It was expected.
Brian: I interviewed a classroom of students at a private Christian school—about 50 students. I asked them—I said, “Have you guys ever had any posting regrets?” You know, meaning, “Have you ever said anything or done anything that, later, you thought, ‘Oh, I wish I could take that back!’?” They all just kind of nodded and rolled their eyes like, “Oh, yes!”
Then I said, “How many of you guys have ever—maybe not yourself”—because they’re not going to admit that it was them—“but you’ve seen someone or a friend of yours has sent you something that you did not ask for / that you knew was clearly outside of God’s boundaries, sexually?” And almost every child/every teenager in the classroom raised their hand.
Brian: They’re willing to admit: “Somebody else sent it to me. I didn’t necessarily respond back.” I even asked my daughter.
When she turned 13, we allowed her first social media—was Instagram. She set up an account; and I asked her, just a few months ago: “Hey, sweetie, has anyone ever sent you a photograph on your Instagram account that you didn’t ask for / that you didn’t invite? It was a total stranger and it was something sexually-inappropriate?” She said, “Oh, yes; absolutely.”
So here it is—I think, as a parent, we can live with/in oblivion that: “It’s not going to happen to my child,” or “My child is not doing it.” You used the word “normalize,” Dennis, and that’s a great word for it because technology has changed the way that our children live out their sexuality.
Bob: So, if we’re going to be protectors of our kids, and we can’t filter everything, it sounds like the only option is just wait until they’re married to give them a cell phone; you know? [Laughter] Moms are listening to what you’re talking about and they’re going: “That’s it! My kid is not getting a cell phone until they go to college because there’s no way to guarantee that they’re not going to be exposed to stuff that could be devastating.”
Dennis: And, Bob, I talked to a dad, the other day, whose daughter had been exposed, not because she had a cell phone yet—she was in junior high and she’d been at a friend’s house. Her friend had a cell phone—she had these inappropriate pictures on her cell phone. So, she’s seen pornographic images, as a young lady, who was being protected—and being protected well by her parents.
Bob: So what do we do? How do we protect our kids?
Brian: I know we’ve all felt that sense of frustration that you’re saying, Bob—with: “My kid doesn’t get a cell phone,” or “They don’t get a computer until they graduate then.” The reality is—if we do that, I think we’re setting our children up for a moral defeat because, then, we’re saying: “My job is to banish all things I consider evil—that are possibilities. Then, when you get out from underneath my umbrella, well then, the sky’s the limit.”
Brian: So, my job, as a dad, is to teach them how to honor God with their eyes, their ears, their hands, and the way that they use technology.
You have to have an ongoing conversation about this stuff. What I choose to do is—on Fridays, I walk in—usually, twice a month—I’ll ask my daughter for her cell phone. One of my criteria is, “If it takes you longer than three seconds to hand me your cell phone, then we’ve got an issue.” I don’t mean that I’m going to get angry; but what I mean is—if it takes longer than three seconds, then the chances are that there’s a breached boundary on that cell phone somewhere.
Bob: “You’re trying to delete the evidence before you hand it over.”
Brian: Yes. If you say: “Oh, I’ll be right back. Let me go to my room and get it.” Well, I know it’s in your pocket—it’s always on you. Or: “I need to change something. I’ll be right back, Dad.” Or, “I need to answer this call.”
No, I just ask for the phone. While holding up the phone to her, so that she can see it, I just say, “I need you to log in to your Instagram.” She logs in. Then I take, literally—Mom and Dad—I take two minutes and that’s it! We do not have time in our lives to check on and keep up with everything that they’re doing, every minute, with technology.
One—that would make me the police of their life—they’ve already got a Holy Spirit.
My job is to come alongside the Holy Spirit and help teach responsibility. So, I take two minutes and just start flipping through her Instagram. The whole time I’m flipping through, I’m praying: “Holy Spirit, if there’s something I need to see, please bring it to my attention.”
Brian: There are two things it does—it creates, for her, a built-in accountability. She knows that, “At any time, Dad could ask for this.”
Dennis: That’s great.
Brian: And I feel like it helps me keep engaged with who her friendships are because every time I do it, I’ll, at least, ask two questions. I’ll turn the screen to her and say, “Hey, how do you know this guy here?” or “Where did you meet him?” or “How do you know her?” Because of that, it’s led to some really healthy conversations about her own usage of technology.
For instance, talking about getting out of bounds, sexually, we had a situation where she was trying to get into a private Christian school, there in our city. We had homeschooled her whole life. She was on a homeschooled cheerleading squad. Well, one of the girls on her Instagram, who was a cheerleader as well, had taken a group picture of all the homeschooled cheerleader girls.
She had—you know how they can write over the pictures? She had written over the picture on Instagram: “Me and all of my…” and there was the “B” word—it’s like the word of affection that girls use for each other today. It’s the most bizarre thing.
So, here’s this Christian young lady, who has written this across the picture of all these girls. I went to my daughter and I said, “Hey, you’re going to have to tell your friend, if she doesn’t take this picture down or untag you, she’s going to cost you the privilege of being on Instagram.” She said: “Why?! I didn’t put it on there.”
I said, “I know you didn’t, sweetie; but now, here it is that you’re trying to get into this private Christian school and you’re going to be a part of their cheerleading squad. Have you already connected with some of the cheerleaders?” She said, “Yes.” I said: “So chances are that they’re seeing this picture right now. Now, your character/your morality is called into question about something that you had nothing to do with.” As a parent, it helps me, if I just take that two minutes and flip through—it led to a productive conversation.
Dennis: You’re making an important point here, too, about Christian schools, and homeschooling, and secular schools. You can’t assume that, if your kid is just around Christian kids at the youth group / Christian kids at school, that they’re exempt from these temptations. They’re not! They’re being influenced by the same things.
One last thing I want to ask you about very quickly. Talk about online flirting and the danger that is.
Brian: Well, this is actually how the sexting starts. I’ve never met a teenager / a guy, who, just out of the blue, sends a text message to a girl and says, “Hey, send me a nude picture of yourself and I’ll send one back.” That’s not how it starts. It starts with, “Hey, what are you doing tonight?” “Well, who else is at the house?” “Well, are you going to be there by yourself?” Then, 200 text messages later, they’re talking about things that they never intended to talk about.
Brian: I mean, most teenagers that get into these sexting situations didn’t set out to get in that conversation.
It’s kind of like us, as a teenager—and you end up in the backseat of the car. You’re thinking, “How did I get here?” or “I got here because I put the keys in the car and I drove down the street.” It was a whole series of choices that led to that situation.
Thirty-nine percent of both guys and girls now admit to sending sexually-inappropriate photos of themselves. Four out of ten of teenagers admit to sending these kinds of pictures. Now, when they asked teenage girls, “Why did you send this picture?” Sixty-seven percent of them said that they felt pressure from a guy to do this. Over 80 percent of all the guys and girls said that they did it to be fun or flirty.
Now here it is—like when we were kids—if you were going to be fun or flirty, as a woman, you would maybe pull a guy’s hair or send him a note in his locker: “Do you like me? I like you—X O X O—Circle ‘yes’ / ‘no.’” But today, if our kids are going to be flirty, they send a sexually-inappropriate text message or photograph.
Dennis: Well, if our parents aren’t taking a deep breath, by the end of this broadcast, and uttering a prayer to God, “Lord, help me,” you need to be. Every parent needs to be very dependent upon God. You need to be asking Him for wisdom to know how to set up the right boundaries, the right contracts, and the right usage of all this technology—not merely protect your child from these matters—but teach them how to choose what is wise, what is good, what is holy, and avoid that which is going to harm them over the long haul.
Bob: Well, if you want to see how one dad is doing it—and somebody who’s pretty well-connected to what’s going on—pick up a copy of Brian Housman’s book, Tech Savvy Parenting: Navigating Your Child’s Digital Life. We’ve got the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. When you get there, look in the upper left-hand corner; and you’ll see a button that says, “GO DEEPER.” When you click on that, it will take you right where you need to be to order a copy of Brian’s book from us, online.
Again, the book is called Tech Savvy Parenting by Brian Housman—order at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to place your order: 1-800-FL-TODAY is the toll-free number—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
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