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New to UMYF (YOUTH) and Middle School
I was having a really good conversation with some new middle school parents the other day about the good and bad issues associated with electronic devices. The following is my summary:
Q. How can I best prepare my middle school daughter and myself for the possibility of cyber-exposure in the coming years? I am wondering what the advice would be on when children should be allowed use of cell phones or access to social networking sites, since it seems to the norm for social interaction these days.
A. It’s a great idea to talk about cyber-exposure before it happens. Tell them what you know about the possible misuse of cell phones, the internet and discuss with them what the family rules should be about cyber-related behaviors. Ask them how they might avoid issues and, if they do happen, how they should react. One more point I feel compelled to bring up. The minimum age for a Facebook profile and account is 14. Although I’m fully aware that some children falsify their ages to get onto Facebook, I do think that permitting children to give a fake age emphasizes to them that they needn’t bother following all the rules. That’s an approach that may, in the long run, backfire upon well-meaning parents who themselves need to put rules in place.
Q. When should children be allowed the use of cell phones or access to social networking sites? I see the need to educate children (and probably adults, too,) on the proper way to conduct themselves in a virtual environment?
A. It is important to note that there’s a difference between carrying a cell phone to enable phone calls to Mom and Dad, and carrying what is in reality a miniature computer — a device that can surf the Web, post on Web sites and send and receive text messages and photos freely. Many parents monitor what their children do online yet turn around and give their child an Internet-enabled cell phone with absolutely no education, guidance, rules or monitoring whatsoever. We tend to think of these devices as “telephones” — used to make voice calls — but our research has shown that more than half of teenagers use these devices to make voice calls only 20 percent of the time or less.
In answer to the question about whether children should be allowed to have access to cell phones: the best route is probably to have lots of discussion and education. Talk with your kids about what kinds of cyber issues they may have witnessed between cell phone users, and how they might personally avoid or respond to such problems. Assure your child that you know about the problems that can arise with cell phones and that you absolutely expect your child to respect others online. Because all of our kids will have to use electronic devices throughout their lives, education and experience is probably the only long-term solution to electronic misbehavior.


Cyber Safety Statistics
95% of parents don’t recognize the lingo kids use to let people know that their parents are watching/listening
33% of children age 10-17 have been cyber solicited sexually; that’s 1 out of every 3 kids
75% of youth who received a cyber sexual solicitation did not tell a parent
81% of parents of cyber youth say that kids aren’t careful enough when giving out information about themselves online or over the phone

76% of parents don’t have rules about what their kids can do on the computer or phone
65% of parents believe that kids do cyber things that they wouldn’t want their parents to know about
4,000,000 children are posting content to the Web everyday
9 out of 10 parents will never know that any inappropriate contact has occurred
Most kids will not report inappropriate contact/content to their parents because they are afraid of losing privileges
48% of 14-17 yr olds report that their parents know “very little” or “nothing” about their online activities


Great Questions …to Ask Your Kids
Did you know…
– That cyber bullies can steal your name and password, then will use your profile to post rumors, gossip or other damaging information.
– That cyber bullies can alter photographs using editing software in order to humiliate individuals
– Cyber bullies may record conversations without your knowledge or consent, then post the call online.
– Cyber bullies may create confrontational and mean-spirited online polls about individuals and post them on different web sites.
– Cyber bullies use web sites and blogs to post hurtful, embarrassing information about other individual.

Pray that:
1. Fewer young people will have their self-images destroyed
2. God will help you set boundaries and your kids will understand the cyber dangers they face.
3. You can effectively share the importance of making good decisions.
4. Your teenager will see the importance of pleasing God in all their actions.

“A prudent man sees danger and hides himself; but the simple go on, and suffer for it.” (Proverbs 22:3)
You are free, as you have always been, to search for answers and solutions, to seek wisdom and knowledge to pray for understanding, and to apply what is best for your life. Remember, the good news is that as long as God grants you breath, it’s never too late to turn things around. You were created for success. Plan for it! Develop it! Own it! Walk in it! Be Prudent about it! Guard it and Keep it!

How Much Commitment Are Teenagers Capable of, Anyway?
“I don’t know if all this makes any difference.” The sentence fell out of “Ron’s”* mouth as he slid into the restaurant booth to join me for lunch.
“What are you talking about?”
“Working with youth,” he muttered. “Does it really make a difference? I mean, I put on all these activities, I have creative Bible studies—but I don’t think my kids get it.”
This will be a light-hearted lunch, I thought.
“Ron” pushed the menu aside and kept talking about the puzzle of adolescent spirituality. Is church just another social event for them?
Do they understand the transforming grace of God? Can they practice any spiritual discipline? He pondered one question after another. When he finally stopped long enough to take a bite of his club sandwich, I threw in my two cents’ worth.
“What can you expect? They’re kids.”
“Exactly,” “Ron” fired back. “What can you expect? I mean, I’m not thinking they should be Billy Graham or Mother Teresa—but really, what kind of spirituality can you expect from teenagers?”
That lunch was six years ago, but I’ve been trying to answer “Ron’s” question ever since. After reading dozens of articles, talking with hundreds of kids, and commiserating with many others about adolescent spirituality, I’ve come to a few conclusions.
It’s no secret that religious beliefs change as children enter and pass through adolescence. Teens, for example, are less likely than children to believe in literal translations of the Bible. Children report they believe in God because their parents told them God exists. On the other hand, adolescents rely more on rational thinking in their faith than on parental precepts. They believe in God because, for example, the universe is orderly.
Studies show that adolescent spirituality is different—different from a child’s spirituality, different from an adult’s spirituality. Which means, first and foremost, that we must put ourselves in teenagers’ shoes.
THINK SMALL, reads a sign on the classroom desk of a kindergarten teacher I know. Sure, we all know that adolescent faith development is different. Yet we must continually “think teen” and understand that every adolescent is in a singular phase of faith development.
I’ve come to expect the following:
Spiritual starts and stops. Spiritual development does not progress at a steady direction toward a pinnacle of maturity.
Unsettling adjustments to new insights. When a new experience stretches a person beyond his or her comfortable limits—when it does not fit within their current beliefs, and goes beyond their structure of thought.
A faith built mostly on emotions. Adolescents are more emotional than cognitive.
A commitment to Christian community. Teenagers have a powerful psychological need to belong—a longing that, for adolescents with a developing faith, can be channeled into the church.
The practicing of spiritual disciplines. A teenager’s quest for faith must be bolstered by deliberate actions that nurture faith.
An emerging other-centeredness. Adolescents are highly capable of reaching out and caring for other people.
A Christ-centered lifestyle. When it comes to cultivating adolescent spirituality, let’s not miss the silver lining because we’re expecting gold.
* name changed