4 ways to set safe parameters on your children’s internet devices

January 3, 2018

On December 25, kids and teenagers across the nation woke up to find they’d received their first iPhone, Kindle, tablet, or personal computer. Maybe you were one of the brave parents who decided to give a device to your child for Christmas. I hold no judgement for you, as I did the exact same thing last year for our then nine-year-old. My husband and I gave her a Nook because she’s an avid reader and takes after me in regards to an interest in “techy things.”

However, I do hope you were wise when you gave your child a device this Christmas. 2018 is here, and it’s likely this new year will bring even more technological change. Here are some basic steps you can take to make sure you are protecting your children during their time on a device.

1. Use monitoring apps or devices

I used the Circle with Disney device in our home last year to monitor all internet connected devices. The Circle actually looks like a white cube in the style of Apple products. It essentially acts as a barrier between the internet and any device. It controls what passes through to a device based on the settings you choose. I can block certain apps and select time limits on each device for each day of the week and for various apps. I can also “pause” the internet through Circle. Keep in mind that Circle only works for devices attached to your home wifi.

If you have older kids who have their own cell phone, you’ll want to use something like Boomerang to monitor their activity while they are away from your home wifi network. I’ve started trying out Boomerang lately and like that it can scan texts to alert you of any inappropriate messaging being sent or received. While my kids are still far from having their own phone, I think this app is a great tool.

2. Set restrictions on the device itself

One of the first things I did when I helped set up the Nook for my daughter was make myself the admin. I then set up a child’s account and selected various restrictions. Most devices allow the admin to restrict internet content by age, which is what I did in the Nook settings. I also blocked internet browsing from her Nook and only allowed her to download YouTube Kids app rather than the regular YouTube app.

Our kids also have computer time once a week on our two Chromebooks. I set up an account for each child and made it so that only approved websites will work. They can type in as many websites as they want, but if it’s not an approved website by me, they simply cannot access the website. I manage all of this by setting up a supervised Chrome user. I navigated to several educational websites they use at school plus some others I have found and then turned those into bookmarks. When my kids are on the computer, I know exactly what websites they are using because the ones I restricted them to are the only websites they can use.

3. Set restrictions on screen time

In our house, we have a Wii, two Chromebooks, two iPads, a Nook, and an iPod touch—and three kids. Our kids could spend all day on devices if we let them. But we don’t. Just like we limit the amount of TV they can watch, and just like we set aside time to spend as a family, we both limit screen time and set aside time specifically for device use.

For example, our kids know they can only play the Wii on the weekends after their chores are done and after any jobs they’ve agreed to do are done. They also only play for about an hour, and we often will play games together as a family.

On Monday nights, I teach one child how to cook and the other two get to be on the Chromebooks. The kids look forward to this time each week, and my husband and I aren’t fielding questions all week about when they can be on the computers because they already know that Monday nights are computer time while supper is being prepared.

With my daughter’s personal Nook, I give her some autonomy in choosing when she can be on her Nook because she’s 10 and is fairly responsible. However, like I mentioned, I also have digital restrictions through the Circle with Disney devices. I have it set so that she can only be on Internet connected apps (YouTube, Netflix, Google apps, etc.) for one hour each day. Once that hour is up, all internet connected apps won’t work. She can still use the Nook for reading or writing, but she is done with her internet usage. Honestly, I don’t think we’ve ever had a week where she uses that full hour each day. Often, she goes several days without even touching her Nook.

4. Engage with your kids about their device

I think that one of the worst things you can do with your kids is just hand them a device and have them set it up on their own. I hope that if you're reading this article it’s because you want to avoid this pitfall.

However, I know it was easy for me to set all of the restrictions I laid out above and then go weeks without knowing what my kids were doing during their computer or device time. Sure, I can hear the sounds from the apps and the computers, but I realized that once I knew they weren’t accessing anything inappropriate, it was too easy to check out and not engage with my kids over their devices.

I have to be intentional and say, “Show me what you are working on,” or, “Show me what YouTube channels you are watching.” My daughter was in her room cracking up one day, and when I joined her on her Nook, we had a great time together watching five guys from Texas do trick shots on the Dude Perfect YouTube channel. Her brothers were introduced to the channel next which led to my house turning into a trick shot haven for them during their numerous hours not dedicated to screen time.

Our kids are growing up in a technological world very different than the one we grew up in. But that doesn’t mean our kids should be kept from all technology. I want to help them use technology for good, which means I’m putting age-appropriate restrictions in place on all devices, and I’m helping them navigate this new world. My daughter has created some amazing videos and slide presentations because she had age-appropriate access to technology.

Walk alongside your children as they start using devices at home. If you stay engaged with them and put some basic restrictions in place, all of this new technology can be a great thing for your family in the new year.

Julie Masson

Julie Masson is the director of communications at the ERLC. She brings her fifteen years of marketing and communications experience from working for SBC entities and other non-profits to serve Southern Baptist churches. She directs the strategy and implementation of the organization’s comprehensive communications initiatives. Julie holds a Master’s degree … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24