What About Online Friendships?
Which form of communication do you prefer?
Whom do you find it easiest to converse with?
□ Family members
□ Fellow Christians
Where does your communication tend to be least inhibited?
□ At school
□ At home
□ At congregation meetings
LOOK at your answer to the first question. Did you indicate that you prefer to communicate by computer rather than talk face-to-face? If so, you’re far from being alone. Many youths use the Internet to start and maintain friendships. “The idea of being able to meet people from around the world—people you’d never be able to meet otherwise—is alluring,” says a young woman named Elaine. Tammy, 19, points out another enticement. “You can control how people view you,” she says. “When you’re face-to-face, if you don’t fit in, there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Now look at your answers to the second and third questions. Don’t be surprised if you find it easier to converse with classmates than with fellow Christians at congregation meetings. “At school, there’s a greater chance of finding people who are going through the same things you are,” says 18-year-old Jasmine. “That can make them a lot easier to warm up to.”
Put all the above factors together, and it may seem only natural that you would want to chat with schoolmates online. Tammy admits that for a time she did that. “All my schoolmates talked online about things, and I didn’t want to be left out,” she says. * Natalie, 20, set up a Web page to keep in touch with friends. “Technology is advancing,” she says. “Communication is finding new forms. This is one of them, and I like it.”
Weighing the Dangers
There’s no question that, for some, making and maintaining friendships is easier online. “The Internet gives you a form of confidence that you wouldn’t otherwise have,” says Natalie. Tammy would agree. “If you’re shy,” she says, “communicating online gives you a chance to plan exactly what you will say.”
But there are dangers to communicating online, and it would be foolish for you to ignore them. To illustrate: Would you walk blindfolded through the streets of a dangerous neighborhood? Why, then, wander online without being aware of the dangers?
Consider the dangers of trying to find friends over the Internet. “It’s too easy to meet shady people,” says Elaine, who at one time enjoyed casually chatting with strangers online. She adds: “Sometimes it’s only a matter of minutes before someone makes lewd remarks or asks such questions as: ‘Are you a virgin? Do you do oral sex?’ Some even offer cybersex.”
What if you’re just chatting with a trusted friend? Even then, you need to be careful. “You could spend too much time conversing with someone of the opposite sex, even if that person is ‘just a friend,’” says Joan. “The more time you spend sending messages to that person, the closer your friendship becomes, and conversation has the potential of becoming much more intimate.”
“Those Who Hide What They Are”
King David well knew the value of guarding against the wrong kind of friends. He wrote: “I have not sat with men of untruth; and with those who hide what they are I do not come in.”—Psalm 26:4.
While online, have you encountered the type of people David spoke of? Under what circumstances do people online “hide what they are”? ․․․․․
On the other hand, could it be that you hide what you are while online? “I would start conversations with people and then take on a personality to fit the conversation,” says Abigail, who visited chat rooms.
A girl named Leanne employed another form of deception. She relates: “I regularly communicated online with a boy in a neighboring congregation. We were soon voicing our feelings of ‘love.’ I would minimize the page on the screen when my parents walked by, so they never had a clue as to what was going on. I don’t think they thought it possible that their 13-year-old daughter was writing love poems to a 14-year-old boy. It never entered their heads.”
Of course, there are times when online communication is appropriate. For example, many people—adults included—use the Internet to keep in touch with friends. If that’s true of you, are there any precautions you can take? Consider the following points.
● Monitor the amount of time you spend online, and don’t let it rob you of time for more important things—including sleep. “Some kids at school said they stayed up till three in the morning on the Internet,” says a youth named Brian.—Ephesians 5:15, 16.
● Communicate only with people you know or whose identity you can verify. Unsavory individuals regularly troll the Internet looking to exploit unsuspecting youths.—Romans 16:18.
● When conducting a business transaction, be cautious. Be extremely careful about giving out personal information. Otherwise, you could become a victim of fraud—or worse.—Matthew 10:16.
● When sending photos to your friends, ask yourself, ‘Does this truly represent someone who claims to serve God?’—Titus 2:7, 8.
● As with face-to-face communication, if an online discussion turns toward “things which are not becoming,” end the conversation.—Ephesians 5:3, 4.
● Always be aboveboard in your use of the Internet. If you have to ‘hide what you are’ from your parents, something’s wrong. “I’m open with my mom,” says a teen named Kari. “I show her what I’m doing online.”—Hebrews 13:18.
“It’s Worth the Wait!”
You want friends. That’s normal. Humans were created to enjoy the company of others. (Genesis 2:18) So when you feel the urge to have friends, that’s in harmony with the way you were made! Just be careful how you choose them.
Be assured that you can find the best of friends if you choose them according to the standards of God’s Word. One 15-year-old girl put it this way: “It’s hard to find friends who love Jehovah and love you. But when you do find them, it’s worth the wait!”
Who said words can’t hurt? Gossip can stab like a sword. How can you put a stop to it?
“I have not sat with men of untruth; and with those who hide what they are I do not come in.”—Psalm 26:4.
Time flies when you’re on the Internet! So set a time limit and stick to it. If need be, set an alarm to go off when your scheduled time is up.
DID YOU KNOW . . . ?
It only takes a few online details—perhaps your last name, the name of your school, and your phone number—to enable someone with bad intentions to find you.
I would like to limit my time on the Internet to ․․․․․ per week, and to do this I will ․․․․․
If I find myself talking to a stranger on the Internet, I will ․․․․․
What I would like to ask my parent(s) about this subject is ․․․․․
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
● What are the pros and cons of online communication compared with face-to-face conversation?
● Why is it easy to adopt a different personality when conversing online?
● How can you control the amount of time you spend online?
● In what beneficial ways might Internet communication be used?
[Blurb on page 103]
“I don’t have online contacts whom I don’t know or wouldn’t associate with in real life.”—Joan
[Picture on page 100, 101]
Would you walk blindfolded through the streets of a dangerous neighborhood? Then why communicate online without being alert to the dangers?