Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Avoid Dangers on the Internet?
PICTURE yourself in the world’s biggest library. Books, newspapers, catalogs, photographs, and recordings of every sort—on virtually every subject—surround you. All the latest information as well as much of the literature of past centuries is at your fingertips.
Well, the Internet can place such information at your fingertips. It enables a person to sit at his computer and exchange information with other computers and computer users anywhere in the world. * It allows users to sell products, to make purchases, to make banking transactions, to converse, to listen to the latest music recordings—all in the privacy of their own home.
Little wonder, then, that some experts predict that over 320 million people will be using the Internet by the end of this year. Use of the Internet is thus becoming commonplace in many parts of the world. With schools and libraries aggressively promoting its use, millions of young people have access to it. In the United States, nearly 65 percent of youths between the ages of 12 and 19 have already used or subscribed to on-line services.
Properly used, the Internet can be a source of helpful information on the weather, travel, and other subjects. Through it, you can buy books, car parts, and other things. Many use it for schoolwork.
Although the Internet can be useful, it can also seem like a library without librarians or other observers. One can browse it with the feeling that no one else is around. But this is one of the greatest dangers of using the Internet. Why? Because countless Web sites contain material that is morally corrupt and spiritually destructive. Thus, the Internet can expose young Christians to temptation. After all, humans are naturally curious—a tendency that Satan the Devil has long exploited. Satan certainly took advantage of Eve’s curiosity and ‘seduced her by his cunning.’—2 Corinthians 11:3.
Similarly, a young Christian could easily be seduced by unwholesome information if he is not determined to safeguard his spirituality. An article in Better Homes and Gardens explained: “The Internet is a bustling frontier where brilliant pioneers hawk the latest information; but pedophiles, scam artists, bigots, and other unsavory characters wander cyberspace too.”
A youth named Javier * says: “Some Web sites are shocking. They can pop up without warning.” He adds: “They are trying to pull you in. They want to entice you—to get your money.” A young Christian named John admits: “Once you start looking at improper material, it’s hard to stop—it’s so addictive.” Some Christian youths have frequented unwholesome Web sites, and this has led them into more serious trouble. Some have even damaged their relationship with Jehovah. How can this be avoided?
“Seeing What Is Worthless”
Sometimes a Web-site address itself clearly indicates that the site contains objectionable material. * Proverbs 22:3 warns: “Shrewd is the one that has seen the calamity and proceeds to conceal himself, but the inexperienced have passed along and must suffer the penalty.”
More commonly, though, the problem is that people may stumble upon an objectionable site purely by accident. The home page may contain lurid images that have been carefully designed to entice you into exploring the site—and returning to it over and over again! *
Kevin describes what happened to one of his friends: “He had time on his hands and was curious. Viewing pornography soon became a pattern.” Fortunately, this young Christian sought out an elder and received help.
Have you resolved what you will do if you stumble upon such a site? It is clear what a Christian should do: Leave the site immediately—or even shut down the Internet browser! Be like the psalmist who prayed: “Make my eyes pass on from seeing what is worthless.” (Psalm 119:37; compare Job 31:1.) Remember that even if no other human is monitoring us, we are not unobserved. The Bible reminds us that all things are “openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting.”—Hebrews 4:13.
Talking to your parents or to other mature Christians can strengthen your resolve not to revisit unwholesome sites. After all, if you fell into quicksand, would you struggle until you were in it up to your neck before calling for help?
What About Association On-Line?
Chat allows Internet users from all over the world to communicate instantaneously with one another. Businesses use it for on-line conferences and to provide customer service. Some chat rooms allow users to share information on technical matters, such as auto repair or computer programming. Some forms of chat allow friends and family members to communicate privately without the expense of long-distance telephone calls. Though there may be legitimate uses for this medium, are there any dangers?
There is a real need for caution when it comes to public chat rooms, for these can pose certain dangers. Writer Leah Rozen observed: “Techno-savvy teenagers are spending hours chatting online with anonymous strangers all over the country and, even, the world. Unfortunately, some of those strangers with whom teens may be talking online also happen to be adult perverts looking for sexual trysts with kids.” An article in Popular Mechanics warned that “you have to be extremely careful” when using public chat rooms. Giving out your name or address to a stranger could be an invitation to serious trouble! Why subject yourself to that danger?
A more subtle danger, though, lies in getting caught up in improper fellowship with strangers who do not respect Bible principles. * Researchers say that much of the teen talk in chat rooms focuses on sexual issues. The Bible’s counsel at 1 Corinthians 15:33 is thus appropriate: “Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits.” Bad associations via a computer link are dangerous. Should a God-fearing youth recklessly expose himself or herself to such risks?
In view of the dangers that the Internet presents, it must be used with caution. Some families, for example, place the computer in a well-traveled area, such as the living room. They may also establish the rule that the Internet only be used when others are at home. If your parents establish such restrictions, cooperate. (Proverbs 1:8) Clear guidelines are an evidence of their love.
If schoolwork requires that you use the Internet, why not keep track of how much time you spend on-line? Try to decide in advance how much time you will spend, using an alarm clock to remind you when the time is up. Tom suggests: “Plan ahead, know exactly what you’re looking for, and stick to it—no matter how interesting other things look.”
Caution is also needed when it comes to the use of E-mail. Christian youths are careful not to get caught up in reading vast quantities of E-mail, especially if much of the information is frivolous or unfounded. Excessive use of E-mail can eat up valuable time needed for schoolwork and spiritual activities.
King Solomon said: “To the making of many books there is no end, and much devotion to them is wearisome to the flesh.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) Those words could well apply to the Internet. Don’t get so involved in the search for facts and figures that you neglect personal study of the Bible and participation in the Christian ministry. (Matthew 24:14; John 17:3; Ephesians 5:15, 16) Remember, too, that while communicating via the computer may have its place, there is no substitute for having face-to-face contact with fellow Christians. So if you really need to use the Internet, make a firm decision to use it wisely. Avoid dangerous sites, and do not spend excessive time on-line. “Safeguard your heart,” and never become a slave of the Internet.—Proverbs 4:23.
^ par. 4 See the series “The Internet—Is It for You?” appearing in the July 22, 1997, issue of Awake!
^ par. 9 Some names have been changed.
^ par. 11 The Web-site address is the string of characters that is used to access the Web site. Sometimes addresses contain words that identify the purpose of the site.
^ par. 12 The home page is like an electronic storefront window. It explains what a site offers, who created it, and so on.
^ par. 19 Such dangers can exist in public chat rooms established by well-meaning Christians for the purpose of discussing spiritual issues. Dishonest people and apostates have sometimes joined these discussions and insidiously attempted to persuade others to accept their unscriptural ideas.
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“Some Web sites are shocking. They can pop up without warning”
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Some families place the home computer in an open area