Caught in the Net

Misuse of the Internet

Introduction

The Internet is a wonderful form of technology. It provides information, which is helpful to your child in his studies. It is also a wonderful source of general knowledge. However, with it's vast array of information, the internet when used incorrectly can become a danger to children and young people and its use should always be supervised.

Internet Addiction

Internet addiction takes many forms and teenagers may be more at risk than adults. Psychologist Michael G. Conner from Oregan, states that ADHD or shy teenagers are "especially vulnerable" to Internet addiction, online chat and compulsive texting. The Internet allows teenagers to withdraw socially while still maintaining virtual communication, often with people they don't know. Teenage boys in particular are likely to become heavily involved in the virtual world of online games. The easy availability of online pornography and gambling lures many teens, especially if there's little parental supervision or "net nanny" filters on home computers.

As fast as the Internet's popularity has grown over the years, Internet addictions have grown just as quickly. The explosion in popularity of the mobile phone with internet facilities, among children and young people in particular has resulted in a scenario where a great number can't even function without going online for something. For some, this impulse has become compulsive behaviour and an obsession with accessing particular areas and interests on the 'net'. Regular reminders through television and billboard advertising are available in every home, hotel, shops and street corners should your interest begin to wain for any length of time. Here are five basic Internet compulsions, and how they can be damaging.

Internet Gambling

The internet didn't invent gambling but it has provided easy and immediate access to this and other behaviours which once were confined to 'dens' and dark alleys. You might think it’s too early to think about your child and gambling. But studies show that some children do start gambling very young – as young as 10. The majority of them have gambled by the age of 15.

Why do we gamble? Why do our children take after us? As adults we all realise that gambling can be disastrous when it is not curbed. Some of us have suffered terribly from the consequences. Yes, that flash world, the keen edge, the toss of a coin, the cut of the cards, the chips, the green baize, the spinning wheel, the lure of Las Vegas and the promise of quick fortunes are irrestible to a particular aspect of our human nature. Especially when we are vulnerable. When we are weak. When we are young.

There are more than 3000 online gambling websites worldwide, including casinos and sites for betting on sport and racing. Teenagers can also gamble without money on phone and Facebook apps. And more than 100 video games rated as suitable for children have gambling themes and content.

Gambling in childhood increases the risk of having a gambling problem as an adult. About a third of adult problem gamblers who seek treatment started gambling when they were aged 11-17 years. Most gambling addicts eventually run out of money; go broke. They suffer. Their families suffer. Some of them most tragically end up taking their own lives. Raising Children Network

Internet Porn

The perversion of 'porn' is probably older than Sodom and Gomorrah. But now you don't even have to sneak it of the top shelves in newsagents, boast that you've been to Soho in London; or the Red Light District in Wherever. It comes extensively and willingly onto your desktop, laptop, palm-reader or handy android. There are photographs, movies and one-to-one private sessions available. It is universal. It runs the gamut of all ages. It exploits in particular the vulnerable; the very young, sometimes facilitating the pillars of societies to lead by the worst possible examples.

Social Networks/ Dating Sites

Some people might argue that one rung below porn on the ladder of Internet addiction is the dependence on social networking and dating sites. Some men, women, young people and our children are arguably so entrenched in their online lives that they never fully extend themselves in the real world. The sincere, intelligent, sociable and enthusiastic young person opens a part of themselves not to broadening social circles and life opportunities, but to a world of abuse and exploitation if they are not careful.

Celebrity Gossip Websites/ Blogs

It would probably be churlish to deny that we all have our heroes. We admire film-stars, footballers, pop idols and even celebrity cooks! There were well established fan clubs for years, before the internet itself became famous. Whereas before some of us might have been brave enough to write to a 'celeb' and frame the reply, if and when it came, now the 'celeb' through a blog or a 'tweet' posts his or her latest amazing viral non-event for the benefit of his or her gushing followers. It is 'happening'; it is a link to a line of fame and fortune. For young people, it may become an all consuming passion, further reflected in changes of dress and eating habits.

General Surfing

Some consumers in the world are simply addicted to their Google browsers. Anyone for You tube, Amazon, Wikipedia? The major stores are clearly trying to nudge us towards the concept of internet grocery shopping. 'I'll no longer be in the aisle' , you may well announce to the checkout person one day. There are no queues with internet banking, and from the comfort of your kitchen, you can talk to a teller in Turkey. When all of your business is conducted, you can then 'surf' for information on just about everything from a cure for a rash on your ring-finger, to the price of a site on the moon. What might start out for your child as a simple enquiry about assistance with homework, could result in downloads on beauty-tips for their pet hamster. This might lead to them assisting their father in completing a survey on the latest trends in teenage kicks. It doesn't help that the Internet is designed to consume its consumers. Fortunately, the young person still strongly desires to be physically 'hanging out' as well but as they see their parents moving towards a growing connectivity to their desktops and laptops, they might never leave their homes without IT.

Cyber bullying - 'You don't deserve to live!'

Amanda Todd, aged 15 years; Alexis Pilkington, aged 17 years; Jamey Rodemeyer, aged 14 years. Perhaps you have heard of all, or some, or none of these young people. They were all suicide victims, having been subjected to cyber bullying. Jamey Rodemeyer was informed that he didn't deserve to live!

Information technology did not invent bullying. The unplugged neanderthal was quite capable of it long before he or she emerged from his or her cave. But when young people did learn how to use cell phones and the internet, some of them started using these means to bully their 'peers' on a daily basis. Probably a bit of 'ganging-up' in the 'playground', on the school bus or down a quiet street, was added to relentlessly after school by:

  • Sending mean messages or threats to a person's email account or cell phone
  • Spreading rumors online or through texts
  • Posting hurtful or threatening messages on social networking sites or web pages
  • Stealing a person's account information to break into their account and send damaging     messages
  • Taking unflattering pictures of a person and spreading them through cell phones or the Internet
  • Sexting, or circulating sexually suggestive pictures or messages about a person

Along with all the 'usual' problems that an emerging young person has to take on board, 'Cyber bullying can lead to depression, and even suicide. Also, once things are circulated on the Internet, they may never disappear, resurfacing at later times to renew the pain of cyber bullying.

Despite the potential damage of cyber bullying, it is alarmingly common among adolescents and teens. According to Cyber bullying statistics from the i-SAFE foundation:

  • Over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying.
  • More than 1 in 3 young people have experienced cyberthreats online.
  • Over 25 percent of adolescents and teens have been bullied repeatedly through their cell phones or the Internet.
  • Well over half of young people do not tell their parents when cyber bullying occurs.

Many cyber bullies think that bullying others online is funny. Cyber bullies may not realize the consequences for themselves of cyberbullying. The things teens post online now may reflect badly on them later when they apply for college or a job. Cyber bullies can lose their cell phone or online accounts for cyber bullying. Also, cyber bullies and their parents may face legal charges for cyber bullying, and if the cyber bullying was sexual in nature or involved sexting, the results can include being registered as a sex offender. Fortunately, there are many ways to track someone who is cyber bullying, but by then it might be too late.

How to help your child to use the internet safely

Educate yourself about the net. Monitor use closely and when necessary forbid access. Set up rules and guidelines that your child must adhere to when surfing the net or engaging in online activities. Teach your teen standard internet safety.

Prayer Intentions

We pray for the protection of children/young people against the misuse of the Internet.

We pray for all who perpetuate the misuse of the Internet.

We pray for a greater awareness among parents, teachers and all involved with young people of the harm the internet can cause; for better education about it and a balance in its use.

We pray for all who suffer as a result of Internet Gambling, Social Networks/ Dating Sites, Online Porn, Celebrity Gossip Websites/ Blogs, and Cyber bullying.

May they get help to overcome their difficulties and find peace in their hearts.