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The calling of this generation is in jeopardy. As parents, we comprehend the danger and enormity of the sin of our world in a way that our children cannot yet grasp. How do we begin communicating to our children how truly incredible their destinies are and how their choices, both large and small, impact their callings in a dramatic way? More importantly, how do we teach our children to walk in purity of heart, mind, and body, one of God’s profound prerequisites?
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Charisma House (August 7, 2012)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
The Ever Changing Landscape of Technology
If anything has changed since we were kids, it’s the world of technology. (Remember when cell phones were the size of your tennis shoe?) The funny thing is, it doesn’t matter what generation you represent; technology changes so fast it makes an impact on all of us—especially our kids. Yet our children seem to navigate all these changes so easily. It’s as if they are natives in a digital world, while we parents are immigrants. The landscape is familiar to them, and for us oftentimes it is foreign territory with new language, customs, and social mores.
Desktop computers were the wave of the future in the 1980s.
We thought we had “arrived ” with the floppy disk in 1984.
Cell phones made our lives easier by the1990s.
The Internet changed our world in the late 1990s.
The first commercial text message was sent in 1992.
The iPod revolution came on the scene in 2001.
In 2006 the word google was added to the Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary.
By 2008 the number of text messages sent daily exceeded the current population of the planet.
In 2009, 95 percent of downloaded songs were downloaded illegally.
That same year the average American teen sent and received 2,272 text messages every month. By 2010 the average went up to 3,339.
In 2010, 6.1 trillion text messages were sent and received. As of 2011, there were only 7 billion people alive.
It is now estimated that a week ’s worth of the New York Times contains more information than a person was likely to come across in a lifetime in the eighteenth century.
And by 2013 the long-awaited “supercomputer” is expected to surpass the computational capabilities of the human brain.
Now check out how quickly it took the following things to reach a market audience of fifty million:
Radio: thirty-eight years TV: thirteen years Internet: four years
iPod: three years
Facebook: two years2
So what does it all mean? In one generation we have gone from the Stone Age to the Space Age technologically, and it is continuing to grow exponentially.
The book of Daniel talks about knowledge increasing (Dan. 12:4). The sheer volume of information that our kids deal with is massive. With information, advice, and guidance multiplying on the earth so rapidly, how do we know who is influencing our kids?
Many parents I have met use this feeling of being in a different world as an excuse to not engage on this level with their children. I hear people say all the time, “I don’t understand any of that stuff, so I don’t even go there!” I have to admit, I am no tech whiz either, but if we don’t “go there,” we will be forfeiting one of our greatest opportunities not only to parent our children but also to disciple them in this area of their lives. This is an arena where I see the enemy lurking, just waiting to snatch our kids over to the dark side before they have even left the “safety” of our living rooms.
When we were kids, we had to go to the mall or out to a restaurant to see our friends; now our own children just hop on their computers or mini- computers (i.e., cell phones) to do the same thing. Sure, there were ways for us to get into mischief, but usually that did not happen under the same roof, let alone the same room that our parents were sitting in! Now kids don’t even have to walk out the door to get themselves into trouble.
One in five teens have sent/posted a nude/ semi-nude picture or video of themselves.
One in three teen boys have had nude/ semi-nude images sent to them that were originally meant for someone else.
The average age of first Internet exposure to porn is age eleven.
One in three visitors to pornographic websites are women.
We parents have to realize that being online is like being in a house with no parents home. We would never let our kids throw a party at our house with no holds barred, but when we let them online with no boundaries, it is the same thing. We have to understand that we need to be training our kids from the time they are young to protect their purity of heart, mind, and body when it comes to technology. We need to teach them that who they really are is who they are when no one is watching.
You know the saying, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”? Well that’s how our kids view the Internet. They think that they can go on a “virtual moral vacation” anytime they want, without any consequences. They think no one will ever find out what they do online. And it’s easy for us, as parents, to think that the online activity of our kids isn’t that big a deal—after all, most of their friends are doing the same things. This apathy toward the online behavior of our kids could be for many reasons, but I believe a huge one is because the con- sequences of high-risk online behavior are often delayed. Think about it. You know what’s going on if you come home after visiting family over the weekend and there is clear evidence throughout the whole house that your son threw a wild party. You have reason to suspect something when your daughter, normally bubbly and cheerful, suddenly becomes withdrawn and depressed, and then you find out from a friend ’s mom that she’s been seen alone with the school ’s playboy. Yet often high- risk online behavior is more difficult to detect and therefore more serious. The longer negative patterns go on, the stronger and deeper they get. You owe it to your children to monitor their online activity. It could literally have lifelong consequences if they are allowed free rein on the Internet.
The enemy has a plan for this generation, and it is to steal and destroy. I am convinced that the enemy will use technology to steal away a generation along with their destiny. When kids (and especially teens) spend hours playing video games, chatting online on social networking sites, texting on their cell phones, or watching every movie that has been released this past decade, their time has been wasted. That same time could have been spent on training for their future. We parents must realize that we use technology differently than our children do. We usually use technology as a means to an end, not an end in itself. While we are task-oriented online, our kids go online for the sole purpose of just hanging out there.
At Generations of Virtue we have a six-week World Changers Intensive internship program for seventeen- to twenty-one-year-olds. This is an unforgettable time for these young people to dive deep into purity, holiness, servanthood, and ministry. One thing we ask is that they “unplug” for the six weeks that they are with us. They are not allowed to have their cell phones or computers except to call home once a week. The young people return home after their six-week “media fast” new and different people. They realize that unplugging isn’t such a bad idea after all and that it can really aid in getting their hearts and minds focused on their purpose, their calling, and their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But even more striking to me is how many young people I speak to that will not apply for the internship because they cannot bring all their gadgets with them.
There are many other opportunities that I see young people missing because their tech world would not be intact. I see them forgoing opportunities to do missions work around the world, because in some areas they won’t be able to check their social networks or text their best friends. I see young people who won’t leave their video games long enough to help out with ministry opportunities right in their own cities. This is why I say the enemy is stealing the destiny of a generation. While they sit at their computers playing online role-playing games, the enemy is not only stealing their hearts and minds but also the hearts and minds of those they could be reaching as well.
Parents must realize what their children are forgoing when they pour themselves wholeheartedly into their very own “media empire.” God has designed this time for young people to learn, grow, and be discipled in their calling. But often- times, by the time young adults reach their mid- twenties, media and culture have done most of the shaping, instead of godly influences. I like to tell young people the old saying that “time is money.” In your bank account of life what are you investing in? Are you investing in your future, your calling, your destiny, or are you investing in things that will not profit your future whatsoever?
Another area in which parents need to mentor their children in is the area of healthy relation- ships. Kids are extremely comfortable in a virtual world. They have virtual friends from around the globe. While parents use social networks as an opportunity to network with old friends they have personally known from high school, college, and present, their kids strive to add a multitude of “friends” whether or not they have ever met them. This might lead to a son or daughter accepting their friend ’s neighbor’s cousin’s brother as a friend—someone whom they have never met in real life!
The dilemma with this is that while teens are on a quest to accept more and more friends for the sake of popularity, their relational world shifts the balance from real to virtual. They exchange real, authentic, face-to-face relationships for virtual illusion, false impressions, and even delusion.
The point I am making here is twofold. First, the more virtual relationships our kids have with people they have not met face-to-face, the more jeopardy they are in. It is a rule at our home that they have to have spent time with someone face- to-face before they add them to their friends list on any networking site they are on. This way we at least know the friends really are who they say they are.
When we meet people for the first time, we often try to discern what type of person they are. Even with people we have known for years but don’t know well, we are usually observing what they say and how they act to see if this is someone we’d like to have in our lives. We do this by using at least two of the five senses that we have— seeing and hearing. But with virtual relationships, we don’t have either of these options available to us. Sure we may “see,” but we are seeing only an image, the image the other person wants to project to the world. Many times that image is different from the real person. It’s nothing more than a mask. We want our kids to have relationships with people in which they can learn to discern who that person really is without the mask.
Secondly and most importantly is that real relationships happen in real life. The healthiest relationships are built face-to-face, day in and day out, not virtually. Real life is real relationships. Now I know there are some reading this who have even met their spouses virtually before being introduced in person. I know that virtual relation- ships are a part of our world. It’s just that our kids need to establish and anchor themselves in relationships that are not only virtual. Because of the push for popularity, both for the shy and the out- going, virtual relationships have such an appeal to teens that some teens would rather live primarily in that world than in the reality of everyday life. The shy ones like it because they can be different from the way they are in school every day, and the extroverts like it because they live for the thrill of relationship—the more the merrier.
As parents we need to be focused on the fact that no matter where technology takes us, we still want to be anchored in the face-to-face relation- ships, where learning how to deal with the good, the bad, and the ugly in other people takes place in a consistent, loving, everyday, face-to-face environment. We need to teach our kids that when they get frustrated with their future spouses, they can’t just hit the “delete” button to end the relationship. Real relationships take hard work, day in and day out. The truth is that our spouses have to live with not just the good impressions we make, but rather with the real us.
The Worship Factor
This is another factor we want to be aware of with our kids and their virtual worlds. Many young people have mixed motives for being online all the time. Now it’s not that they are aware on the surface that this is a motivation, but it is our job as parents to disciple them in a way that purifies their motives for being online. The bottom line is that they like the attention they get from others. Whether it is that online game they are winning or the social networking site and their thousands of friends, they like the fact that this is a “world ” where people like them. Teens live in a world of growing maturity and constant challenges. Teens have a fair amount of conflict with parents and other authorities as they are challenged to mature and forge a place for their individual identity. It’s a stretching experience that can be downright uncomfortable. Then along comes an opportunity not only to have people like the things they do but also to be the center of attention as well. I call this the “worship factor,” or the “me factor.” Does this sound familiar to you?—“It’s all about me and my friends and what I do.”
I have a young lady on my staff with Generations of Virtue who prayed for over three years about having a Facebook account. Every time she would ask the Lord about getting on and having her own account, she would feel a check in her spirit. God began to show her that her motives were not right. She said that God convicted her that it was difficult enough for her to put Him first and that this would be a place where she would be pointing people to her, rather than the Lord. She said she had enough trouble trying to keep God as the focus and not her, as it was, and this would only make it harder. Finally there came a point where God dealt with the motivation of her heart so she would be able to use this area of technology to advance His kingdom purposes and not her own little empire of self.
This is the online worship factor. Is it all about me or about truly being a representative of God ’s mighty army and making advances for His kingdom? So much of technology centers around my life, my pictures, my friends, my little world. What happened to our calling and destiny to be world-changers for the almighty King? We get sucked into this vortex of self and the “me” factor that is all about me getting worship from my friends. Last I read in the Bible, Lucifer fell from heaven because he wanted the worship that belonged to God.
Advancing God’s Kingdom
In his book Re-Create: Building a Culture in Your Home Stronger Than the Culture Deceiving Your Kids, Ron Luce says that “98 percent of our population are followers of culture and 2 percent are the shapers of culture.”7 In a world where our kids are incredibly tech-savvy, why don’t we encourage them to become the 2 percent? That 2 percent has tremendous power and authority over our culture. If that 2 percent were young people sold out to God ’s purposes of advancing His kingdom, that would truly rock our world. Look what twelve disciples did without the Internet! If we work with this next generation, the ones living in our own homes, and give them a vision for the impact they can have on this world through technology, there’s no envisioning how God will use it. If they write the music, direct the movies, create the websites, engineer the games, and manage their Internet world with pure hands and a clean heart to advance God ’s kingdom, this world will never be the same. This is the vision that we have to communicate to them: if their motives are pure and they see technology as a way to advance God ’s kingdom, and not their mini-empires, this will create change. Not that technology and media are bad—just the opposite! However, this powerful tool has been hijacked by the enemy of our souls, and we must take back the ground that the enemy has stolen and use it for the glory of God.
Everyday Practical Hints
Now whether your kids are three or thirteen, there are some practical measures you can take to make their technology world much safer. You have to start when your kids are young so you can be up to speed by the time they reach their teen years when technology issues really come to the forefront.
The number one suggestion I give to all parents, no matter what age their kids are, is to put some kind of filtering or monitoring software on all computers that kids have access to. This will save you from a path of destruction that the enemy is betting your kids will stumble into. One of the most common experiences that hundreds of parents have shared with me is how their son or daughter chanced upon some kind of pornographic website by accident, then became addicted. This dark world is proactively seeking to imprison your child for life. Filtering software provides an outer perimeter that at least helps guard them from this onslaught.
Now I am no computer whiz. My kids are the ones to save me most of the time from my technology mishaps and woes—anything from my e-mail not working to my printer being jammed. As I stated earlier, they are the natives in this territory. Still, I make it a point to find a way to put filtering software on our computer and learn how to monitor it properly. Mind you, it is not enough to have it, if you do not know how to monitor it and use it properly. You need to come to grips with how to use the software once it is in place, and if this is way beyond your realm of expertise, don’t use that as an excuse to hand your kids over to the enemy on a silver platter. Find a techno- logically capable college student from your church, and have them install the filtering program and teach you how to use it.
There are no excuses when it comes to this world of pornography. Take a look at what we are up against:
Pornographic websites: 4.2 million (12 percent of total websites)
Pornographic pages: 420 million
Daily pornographic search engine requests: 68 million (25 percent of total search engine requests)
Daily pornographic e-mails: 2.5 billion (8 percent of total e-mails)
Average daily pornographic e-mails/user:
4.5 per Internet users
Monthly pornographic downloads (peer- to-peer): 1.5 billion (35 percent of all downloads)
Websites offering illegal child pornography: 100,000
Sexual solicitations of youth made in chat rooms: 89 percent
Youths who received sexual solicitation: one in seven
Worldwide visitors to pornographic web- sites: 72 million monthly8
No matter what age your children are, it is a good idea to keep computers in public, high-traffic areas of your home. Remember laptops have legs and like to walk away. Keeping computer screens where they can be seen by other eyes will cut down on temptation. Especially at night, keep all these devices inaccessible by blocking the Internet signal or placing them in your bedroom. (I know one dad who actually unplugs the router and takes it into his bedroom every night.) One of the most common stories parents share with me is about kids getting online, via computers or cell phones or other devices, in the middle of the night while the world is sleeping.
Time limits are also important. Whether it is for playing games or being on Facebook, studies show that parents who set time limits see results:
Only about three in ten young people say they have rules about how much time they can spend watching TV (28%) or playing video games (30%), and 36% say the same about using the computer. But when parents do set limits, children spend less time with media: those with any media rules consume nearly 3 hours less media per day (2:52) than those with no rules.9
Don’t forget that cell phones are essentially small computers, and every generation of phone gets more and more powerful. Oftentimes we focus on the actual laptop or desktop, but many times this is not what gets our kids in trouble. They are just as comfortable using their cell phones to have access to all the garbage on the Internet as well. A recent study on media use among teens revealed “young people now spend more time listening to music, playing games, and watching TV on their cell phones (a total of :49 [minutes] daily) than they spend talking on them (:33 [minutes])”10 Being familiar with your carrier’s parental control options and always picking the phone that is the simplest and most basic for your child’s needs is imperative. Although we parents might not use every feature on our phones, our kids will figure out what those features are and learn how to use them. Don’t assume that because you don’t, they won’t. Remember they are the natives when it comes to this technology!
Now it is no easy task to find our kids (especially kids under the age of fifteen) phones that do not have every cutting-edge feature, bell, and whistle. I went the other day to find my fourteen- year-old daughter a phone that would simply make calls, send text messages, and take decent pictures, and there were only a handful of crummy models to choose from at our carrier’s store. Most of them looked like something we would plan on getting Grandma, with large print screens. It made me want to just cave in and get her the newest model of the iPhone; I mean, she is a very responsible young lady! But the words of so many teens and parents echoed in my head about scenarios that came up with their “good, responsible” kids being drawn into temptation that they were not ready to handle.
And the problem is that once that happens, you can’t go back. So our search goes on for a simple phone, one that is still cool! Nothing is more crushing than finding out that your child is immersed in pornography. This is a common occurrence that parents don’t expect your kids to be able to stand and win if you are not engaged yourself in a conquest for victory.
Pornography is an attack of the enemy especially focused on derailing our sons, but daughters fall prey to it as well. It is evil, and there is a proactive offensive being launched against our children.
“Roughly two-thirds (67 percent) of young men and one-half (49 percent) of young women agree that viewing pornography is acceptable.”
Boys between the ages of twelve and seventeen who regularly view pornography on the Internet had sex at an earlier stage in their lives and were more likely to initiate oral sex, apparently imitating what they had watched.
“More than half of sexually experienced guys would rather give up sex for a month than give up going online for a month.”
“Overall revenue from the porn industry in the United States is greater than the
National Football League, National Basketball Association, and Major League Baseball combined.”
Seventy percent of sexual advances over the Internet happened while youngsters were on a home computer.
Ninety percent of eight- to sixteen-year- olds have viewed porn online (most while doing homework).
Our kids need to be equipped to win this battle. We cannot stand by and assume that they will not be affected by this enemy. They need to be dressed for battle and be well acquainted with the enemy and his tactics. Now a word to parents: don’t expect your kids to be able to stand and win if you are not engaged yourself in a con- quest for victor y. If pornography is an issue in your life, this is the time to leave it at the cross and get squared around. If for nothing else, do it for the children you love so dearly. The enemy of your soul will convince you this is impossible, but God is the only hope in the war being waged against your soul. Surrender this area to the Lord minute by minute so the generational line of your family can be redirected into the godly line of sons that are meant to stand in this war.
In his book Hero: Becoming the Man She Desires, Fred Stoeker (coauthor of the Every Man’s Battle series) asks, “Are you leaving the women in your life better off for having known you?”17 Is that true of you, Dad? Is that true of your sons?
Although pornography is primarily a male issue, women are becoming more and more involved. Fred Stoeker is a good friend of mine. As a guest speaker at a parent-teen conference called ReConnect that my ministry hosts, Fred shared a story that shocked me. He had been invited to speak at a popular Bible college, and a week before his arrival the school had sent an anonymous poll to the students regarding their pornography usage. His question wasn’t, “When was the last time you viewed pornography?” It was, “How often do you view pornography?” The poll results were unsettling to say the least; 100 per- cent of men and 87 percent of women said they view pornography at least once a week.
We need to prepare our children age-appropriately for this dilemma. We need to equip them for this battle. Most boys are shown their first pornography at age eleven, but this is becoming more common even as young as age eight. How do we brace ourselves for this, let alone our children? Start by explaining to your young children that if they ever see a picture anywhere (on the computer, in a book, magazine, even a movie) of a woman (or a man) who is not properly dressed, especially one without clothes on, to come and tell you immediately. Part of the key I have found in waging this battle is to bring things out into the light. Things kept hidden in darkness provide the enemy with a door of entrance. In teaching our kids to be upfront and tell the truth, we are allowing the light of God to shine into that area and bring redemption. Leaving things in secret gives the enemy the edge and the upper hand.
Also explain to your child how to handle this issue online. For this generation, pornography is relentless at trying to trap our kids when they are innocently browsing the Internet. Explain to them that if they ever see anything online that depicts a person without clothes on or doing something that makes them uncomfortable or is inappropriate, they should immediately close the page and run to get you. Further, I always recommend that they turn off the computer, because I don’t want the unsuspecting brother or sister to walk by and be scarred as the first child is running to find a parent! You can always go back later and research how that image came up on the screen. Now I always advise parents to take a deep breath, put on an un-alarming demeanor, and go see what’s up. Reacting by screaming at the top of your lungs and popping your eyeballs out will hardly encourage your child that you are approachable when these kinds of issues come up.
Parents, we need to be engaged in this even when our children don’t come and tell us that they have found suspicious content online. One time when we were doing a teen program with about four hundred teens in Arizona, a fourteen-year-old boy came up and quietly shared his testimony with me. He said that he had stumbled onto pornography online, and out of curiosity he had looked at it a bit one day, although he knew better. He went to bed without sharing with his parents what kind of content he had viewed on the Internet. After falling sound asleep, he was awakened by both his parents and confronted with his activity. After much discussion late into the night, and a time of prayer and repentance, he went back to sleep with a clear conscience. He confessed that having his parents do that changed the course of his life. He was proud to share that he had not looked at pornography again. His parents, by loving him enough to be aware of his online activities and confronting him with the truth, had saved him from a world of conflict and hidden sin. But to catch this hidden conduct right away, it took parents who not only had filtering software but also monitored it as well.
As much as we need to train our children to be on guard when they are young, we need also to set their sights on purity of mind, heart, and body as they get older. They need to be able to stand against their flesh, which is set on pushing the boundaries. Our teens are immersed in a world where sleaze and promiscuity are common, and to say no to this onslaught will surely put them in the minority. It is essential to help them see that this is really a step into God ’s higher calling.
I have listed several resources at the end of this chapter that we at Generations of Virtue have found useful. Work through them with your teens so that they can overcome the battle set before them. This battle with media expo- sure is an everyday battle. The enemy has declared war against our children, and we need not only to acknowledge the battle but also engage in the everyday scrimmages to ensure victory.
Resource for dads:
Every Man’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker with Mike Yorkey
Resources for dads and sons:
Hero: Becoming the Man She Desires by Fred Stoeker and Jasen Stoeker
Preparing Your Son for Every Man’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker, with Mike Yorkey
Tactics: Securing the Victory in Every Young Man’s Battle by Fred Stoeker with Mike Yorkey
Resources for moms and daughters:
Every Young Woman’s Battle by Shannon Ethridge and Stephen Arterburn
What Are You Waiting For? by Dannah Gresh