While most frum people recognize the negative aspects of having a television in the home, many frum people are sadly unaware of the full extent that they are putting their families at risk by having the Internet in their homes. Although various gedolim have issued severe warnings and prohibitions about the Internet, many frum people still have Internet connections at home and often access the Internet at work and throughout the day and night on their smartphones, iPads, or other technological devices. Many rationalize this because there is so much valuable information available on the Internet and the ease and convenience that having Internet access affords. Whatâs worse, many parents have no idea what their kids are up to online. And sadly, many frum women are shocked to discover what their husbands are doing online.
The Internet poses real dangers for children and for adults. One of the threats facing children on the Internet is exposure to pornography (inappropriate pictures, videos, and subject matter). The number of children who have been exposed to this subject matter is shocking, and frum children are not immune to this reality. This includes children who have sought the images out as well as those who have come upon them accidentally. A study showed that 79% of children viewing this subject matter did so at home. Most parents have no idea what their children could be looking at, and many parents believe that their own children would never do such a thing.
Another grave threat is sexual predators and other inappropriate contact with dangerous and malicious characters. These individuals will seek out vulnerable children to exploit and will gradually befriend them and earn their confidence and trust. A family I work with in my private practice was shocked when the parents discovered that their 16 year old son had been befriended online by a number of registered sex offenders. They were horrified to discover their son had actually met up with one of these men.
Social networks like Facebook and others have become part of daily life for millions of Americans, but they pose special risks for children. Children may unwittingly post sensitive personal information and photos of themselves and may come into contact with other people who are looking to influence them or exploit them. A client of mine discovered that his teenage daughter had recently become involved with a young man she met through an online game.
Online video networks let users submit their own content and post in online for others to see. Even mainstream networks like YouTube feature sexually inappropriate subject matter and imagery.
The risks of the internet are not limited to children, however. Adults are also at risk from a menace in their own homes. Many married men find themselves getting heavily involved with inapproprate subject matter and imagery and some even develop addictions, wanting desperately to quit but unable to stop despite damage to relationships with their wives, children, and in their careers. For some the Internet becomes the gateway to infidelity or other risky, harmful behaviors. In my private practice I come across many women who were completely unaware of the scope of their husbandsâ Internet use.
So what can you do to keep the Internet from having a harmful effect on your family? Fortunately, there are a number of strategies to keep your family protected. Here are some useful tips to keep your family safe:
Â· Parents need to learn more about what potential risks there are for their families on the Internet. Parents are rarely up to date on the latest trends in social networking, online gaming, and interactive technology. If parents do not know enough specific information about what risks are out there, they will not be able to protect their families. Make a list of all the Internet-capable devices your family has access to, including computers, phones, iPads, etc, both inside and outside the home.
Â· Parents need to talk to their children about the risks of the Internet, whether in the home or outside. This includes viewing inappropriate subject matter and imagery, communicating with strangers online, posting private information, and other possible areas of concern. It is not enough for parents to assume that their children are too innocent or too frum to engage in these behaviors. Just as a parent needs to tell their kids not to play with matches or run into traffic, a parent cannot avoid this topic with their kids in the misguided belief that this risk does not affect them or their children.
Â· If you have Internet in your home, keep your computer in a public area of your home, like the living room. Children should not have their own laptops or access to computers in their rooms.
Â· All computers should have an Internet filtering program put on the computer by a parent. One such program is Norton Online Family (available for free at onlinefamily.norton.com) which allows parents to set up and monitor what kind of websites are visited, social networking, instant messaging, and even posting personal information online. It also lets parents set a time of day after which children cannot log on to the Internet. If children are given cellphones, they should be phones that do not use apps and are not Internet-capable.
Â· Parents need to tell their children that they will be monitoring their childrenâs online activities. Parents should explain that this is being done because they care about their childrenâs welfare, not to be nosy or intrusive.
Â· Couples need to talk to each other openly about some of the risks inherent in Internet use. Couples should discuss using the same safety measures above, including filters, monitoring, as well as regular review of online activity.
If you want to keep your family safe and protected, remember that the Internet is simply one piece in a bigger picture. Encouraging open communication with your children -- and with your spouse -- as well as being involved in the daily details of their lives is the best way to insure a happy, healthy, and rewarding relationship for many years to come.
Brad Salzman, LCSW, MSSW, is a New York State licensed psychotherapist in private practice in Midtown Manhattan and Monsey, specializing in relationships and Internet addiction. He is a graduate of Yale and Columbia Universities and spent four years learning in Israeli yeshivos. His website is www.frumtherapy.com, and he can be reached for a free consultation at (917) 512-3490.