Explainer: How to make sure your kids are safe on the internet

August 11, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the way almost all activities take place. Events like school, church, and regular social gatherings have shifted to being virtual experiences rather than in-person meetings due to the safety guidelines. Moving to an online format has presented numerous challenges, but one of the biggest challenges we face is how to make sure that kids are safe on the internet. Internet safety for children has always been a concern, but increased use of technology and the amount of time spent in front of a screen has elevated the need for intentional measures to protect our children. Rather than being reactionary in combating unsafe or inappropriate material on the internet, we need to be proactive in establishing safe and helpful internet practices. Here are some issues to consider as you seek to safeguard your children online: 

1. Screen time 

Something that adults and children alike have had to figure out during the last few months is what a work/life separation looks like when remaining home. For many of us, our places of work and rest are within the same walls; we do not have a daily commute to cool down, do not change out of work clothes, and are spending exponentially more time in front of a screen. This will also be true for children when school starts again. Usually, “screen time” is a form of reward after the day is finished or on the weekends; but right now, screens are the medium for learning and not just for entertainment. 

It is important for children and parents to have set routines and rhythms. Set aside specific times of day to complete chores, do homework, go for walks, and spend time with family. While every day does not have to be exactly the same, you can create a sense of normalcy by having cut-off hours for school life and by setting screens aside at a certain point in the day. Because we don’t know what to expect for the fall semester, we can be better prepared by thinking through the possibility that we may have to do school from an online or at-home format. One idea worth considering is purchasing blue-light blocking glasses to keep children from getting headaches as they spend extra time completing assignments in front of a screen. 

Routines and rhythms make adults feel more productive, and the same will be true for our children.

2. Monitor online presence

Awareness of how your children are using the internet is of paramount importance. This includes what they are watching, the social media platforms they are using, the online learning programs being accessed, and with whom they are communicating. It may seem invasive or overbearing, but knowing these things about your kids can be tremendously beneficial for their well-being and safety. Especially for younger children who are still learning how to navigate the computer and other technology, it is crucial for parents to monitor their children’s online presence. 

Some of the dangers kids run into on the internet include cyberbullying, inappropriate websites, sexual predators, and scammers. Kids who have never been taught internet safety are not equipped to deal with these issues when they arise, and it is very likely that they will not be able to identify these as potential threats. By monitoring what children are doing online, parents have the opportunity to recognize threats and harmful content that the children may not recognize themselves. 

Secretly checking on your kids will erode their trust which can cause them to hide online content and lie about what they are doing. Having open and honest conversations with your children about the potential dangers they may encounter online can help protect them, as well as create a home environment that allows children to feel safe when talking about hard topics. Knowing all of the passwords to the accounts your children have is a good way to check their content; it is prudent to do random checks on their accounts. Another good practice is only allowing children to have access to screens in public areas of the home. If a parent is able to see what the kids are working on, it can protect and keep them accountable.

3. Rules for internet usage

A practical step for internet boundaries is to have a list of internet rules. Your list of rules to implement may include:

We must also recognize that predators are not always strangers, but can be people within our communities. While child molesters and sexual predators may be strangers, research shows that most target victims they already know. Make sure to talk with your children about predatory behaviors before this situation presents itself. 

These rules are just general guidelines to help think through the important topics and stipulations you should discuss with your children. Each age group will be different, so rules can change as kids get older. Talk through your internet safety rules with your kids regularly and explain why they are important. 

Moving forward

Continue being just as vigilant with internet boundaries as you were before the COVID era. More time spent on the internet means more times to check in and guard the safety and privacy of your children. Furthermore, enforcing screens in public spaces will help children keep accountable and stay safe while they are on the internet. 

The internet is a tool: not inherently bad, not inherently good, but it can be used to both edify and tear the soul. Because children will be spending more time on laptops and tablets in the coming months, parents should be extra vigilant in monitoring screen time, having hard conversations about safety and sexuality, and praying for God’s protection. Parents serve in the role of guide and counselor; let us not miss this opportunity to train our children in the way of the Lord and remove stumbling blocks when we are able.

ERLC interns Juliana Martinez and Mary Beth Teague contributed to this article.

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