>> Tuesday, July 31, 2012
FOUR THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT DIVORCE
After assessing the damage, the owners have a choice—either tear down the house or save it.
Before making a hasty decision to end your marriage, think. Divorce does not always end life’s anxieties. On the contrary, often it merely exchanges one set of problems for another. In his book The Good Enough Teen, Dr. Brad Sachs warns: “Separating couples fantasize about the perfect divorce—the sudden and permanent passing of gray and stormy conflict, replaced by the cool, comforting breezes of serenity and congeniality. But such a state is just as eternally elusive as is the perfect marriage.” It is important, then, to be fully informed and to approach the question of divorce realistically.
The Bible and DivorceThe Bible does not treat divorce casually. It states that Jehovah God views as treacherous and hateful the frivolous putting away of one’s mate, perhaps with the motive of taking another spouse. (Malachi 2:13-16) Marriage is a permanent bond. (Matthew 19:6) Many marriages that broke up on trivial grounds could have been saved if partners had been more forgiving.—Matthew 18:21, 22.
At the same time, the Bible allows for divorce and remarriage on one ground—sexual relations outside the marriage. (Matthew 19:9) Therefore, if you learn that your mate has been unfaithful, you have the right to terminate the marriage. Others should not impose their views on you, and it is not the purpose of this article to tell you what to do. In the end, you are the one who will live with the consequences; therefore, you are the one who must decide.—Galatians 6:5.
Nevertheless, the Bible states: “The shrewd one considers his steps.” (Proverbs 14:15) Hence, even if you have Scriptural grounds for divorce, you would do well to give serious thought to what that step will entail. (1 Corinthians 6:12) “Some may think that they have to decide quickly,” says David, in Britain. “But having been through a divorce, I can say from experience that time is needed to think things through.”*
Let us consider four important issues you need to think about. As we do, please note that none of the divorced individuals quoted say that they made a wrong decision. However, their comments highlight some of the challenges that often arise in the months and even years after ending a marriage.
1 The Problem of Finances
After a period of separation, Daniella decided to get a divorce. “I tried to save my marriage,” she says, “but my husband continued to be unfaithful.” Daniella feels that she made the right choice. Still, she relates: “As soon as we separated, my economic situation became disastrous. Sometimes I didn’t even have an evening meal. I would just drink a glass of milk.”
Maria, in Spain, suffered a similar setback. “My ex-husband doesn’t give us any financial support,” she says, “and I have to work very hard to pay off debts he had. I also had to move from a comfortable house to a small apartment in an unsafe area.”
As these experiences show, the breakup of a marriage often deals a devastating financial blow to women. In fact, a seven-year European study revealed that while the income of men increased by 11 percent after divorce, women’s income decreased by 17 percent. “It’s difficult for some women,” says Mieke Jansen, who headed the study, “because they have to care for the children, find a job as well as deal with the emotional trauma of divorce.” London’s Daily Telegraph noted that according to some attorneys, such factors are “forcing people to think twice about splitting up.”
What might happen: If you divorce, there may be a reduction in your income. You may also have to move. If you retain custody, it may be difficult to support yourself and adequately care for the needs of your children.—1 Timothy 5:8.
2 Parenting Issues
The situation was similar with Graciela, a divorced mother in Spain. “I was given full custody of my 16-year-old son,” she says. “But adolescence is a difficult time, and I was ill-prepared to raise my son alone. I spent days and nights sobbing. I felt like a failure as a mother.”
Those who share custody may face an additional problem—having to negotiate with the ex-spouse on such delicate issues as visitation arrangements, child support, and discipline. Christine, a divorced mother in the United States, says: “Creating a working relationship with your ex is not easy. There are so many emotions involved, and if you’re not careful, you could end up using your child as a tool to try to manipulate the situation.”
What might happen: The custody arrangements set forth in a court of law may not be what you would prefer. If you share custody, your ex-spouse may not be as reasonable as you would like regarding the aforementioned matters of visitation, financial support, and so on.
“EVERY CHILD’S BIRTHRIGHT”“When I was five years old, my father had a brief affair with his secretary, and my parents divorced. As far as taking care of me, they did everything ‘right’ according to the wisdom of the day. They reassured me that while they did not love each other anymore, they still loved me, and after my father departed to his bachelor apartment across town, both continued to care for my material needs.
“Two years later my mother remarried, and we moved out of the country. After that, I only saw my father every few years. I have seen him just once in the past nine years. He missed most of my growing up, and he does not know my three children—his grandchildren—except through what I’ve shared with him in letters and photos. They have missed knowing their grandfather.
“As a child of divorce, I grew up without any visible scars. But inside I battled monsters of rage, depression, and insecurity without knowing why. My trust in men was nonexistent. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that a mature friend helped me to identify the roots of my hostility and I began to work at letting go of it.
“My parents’ divorce took away from me every child’s birthright—the feeling of being secure and protected. The world is a cold, scary place, but it seems to me that the family unit is a wall against it, where the child can come to feel nurtured and comforted. Shatter the family unit, and the protective wall crumbles too.”—Diane.
3 The Effect of Divorce on You
David, quoted earlier, was similarly devastated when he found out that his wife was involved with another man. “I reacted with total disbelief,” he says. “I truly wanted to spend every day of my life with her and our children.” David chose to divorce, but the breakup has left him with doubts about his future. “I wonder if someone could really love me or whether this might happen again if I remarry,” he says. “My confidence has been shaken.”
If you are divorced, it is only to be expected that you will experience a wide range of emotions. On the one hand, you might still feel love for this person with whom you shared a one-flesh bond. (Genesis 2:24) On the other hand, you might feel resentful over what has occurred. “Even after several years,” says Graciela, quoted earlier, “you feel confused, humiliated, and helpless. Many happy moments from your marriage come to mind, and you think: ‘He used to tell me that he couldn’t live without me. Was he always lying? Why did this happen?’”
What might happen: You may have lingering feelings of anger and resentment over the ways in which your spouse mistreated you. At times, loneliness may be overwhelming.—Proverbs 14:29; 18:1.
4 The Effect of Divorce on Children
Children are often the forgotten casualties on the divorce battlefield. But what if two parents just do not get along? In such a case, is divorce really “better for the children”? In recent years, that notion has come under attack—especially when marital problems are not extreme. The book The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce states: “Many adults who are trapped in very unhappy marriages would be surprised to learn that their children are relatively content. They don’t care if Mom and Dad sleep in different beds as long as the family is together.”
Admittedly, children are often aware of parental conflicts, and marital tension can take a toll on their young minds and hearts. However, to assume that a divorce will automatically be in their best interests could be a mistake. “The structure that marriage provides appears to help parents maintain the kind of consistent, moderate discipline to which children respond, even when the marriage is less than ideal,” write Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher in their book The Case for Marriage.
What might happen: Divorce could have a devastating effect on your children, especially if you do not encourage them to have a healthy relationship with your ex-spouse.—See the box “Caught in the Middle.”
This article has discussed four factors that you would do well to consider if you are thinking about divorce. As mentioned earlier, if your spouse has been unfaithful, the decision is yours to make. Whichever course you choose, you need to be aware of the consequences. Know what challenges you will face, and be prepared to deal with them.
After considering the matter, you might feel that the better option is to work to improve your marriage. But is that really possible?
How can a groom enhance the dignity of this happy occasion? What can a bride do to show honor to her husband and to Jehovah? How can others who attend add to the joy of the wedding day? Considering some Bible principles will help to answer those questions, and applying those principles will minimize possible problems that could detract from this special occasion.
Who Is Responsible?In many lands, a minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses may legally officiate at a marriage ceremony. Even in places where the legal step must be performed by a civil agent, a couple may want to have a Bible-based talk. In such a talk, the groom is usually asked to reflect on the God-given role of the family head. (1 Corinthians 11:3) Accordingly, the groom has the prime responsibility for what happens at the wedding. Of course, the arrangements for the wedding ceremony itself and for any gathering that may follow are usually made well in advance. Why may this present challenges?
One reason is that relatives on one side or the other may attempt to exert a dominant influence on wedding plans. Rodolfo, who has performed many weddings, notes: “At times, the groom comes under tremendous pressure from relatives, especially if they are helping to pay for the wedding reception. They may have strong opinions as to what should happen during the wedding ceremony and at the reception. This could undermine the groom’s Scriptural role as the one responsible for the occasion.”
Max, who has been performing wedding ceremonies for more than 35 years, observes: “I have noticed a trend toward the bride taking the lead in deciding what will take place at the wedding and at the reception, with the groom having less to say.” David, who has also officiated at many weddings, comments: “Grooms may not be used to taking the lead and are commonly not sufficiently involved in the wedding preparations.” How can the groom effectively shoulder his responsibility?
Communication Increases JoyFor the groom to carry out his responsibility for wedding preparations successfully, he must communicate effectively. The Bible pointedly says: “There is a frustrating of plans where there is no confidential talk.” (Proverbs 15:22) However, much frustration can be avoided if the groom first discusses wedding preparations with the bride, family members, and others who can give sound Bible-based advice.
How did this couple work out these differences? By kind, honest communication. (Proverbs 12:18) Ivan adds: “We studied Bible-based articles on the subject of weddings, such as those published in The Watchtower of April 15, 1984.* This material helped us to have a spiritual view of the occasion. In view of our different backgrounds, we had to compromise in several areas of personal choice. We met somewhere in the middle.”
Aret and Penny followed a similar course. Regarding their wedding day, Aret says: “Penny and I discussed our different desires for the wedding, and we were able to reach a harmonious agreement. We prayed for Jehovah’s blessing on the day. I also sought the advice of our parents and some other mature married couples in the congregation. Their suggestions were very helpful. As it turned out, our wedding was beautiful.”
Maintaining Dignity in Dress and GroomingIt is understandable that both bride and groom want to be well-dressed for their wedding. (Psalm 45:8-15) They may spend time, effort, and money on appropriate clothing. Which Bible principles can help them to choose what is both dignified and attractive?
Consider what the bride wears for the occasion. While tastes vary from person to person and from country to country, the Bible’s admonition is applicable everywhere. Women are “to adorn themselves in well-arranged dress, with modesty and soundness of mind.” That applies to Christian women at all times, and it certainly includes the wedding day. The fact is that a joyful wedding does not require “very expensive garb.” (1 Timothy 2:9; 1 Peter 3:3, 4) How satisfying when this advice is applied!
David, mentioned earlier, comments: “Most couples endeavor to follow Bible principles, and they deserve commendation. There have been cases, though, when the gowns of brides and bridesmaids were immodest, being very low-cut or see-through.” In his meeting with the bride and groom beforehand, one mature Christian elder helps them to keep a spiritual perspective. How? By asking them whether the attire they have in mind would be modest enough to wear to a Christian meeting. Granted, the style of clothing might be different from regular meeting attire, and what is worn for the wedding may reflect local custom, but the level of modesty should accord with dignified Christian standards. Even if some in the world might view the Bible’s moral code as restrictive, true Christians are content to resist the world’s attempts to squeeze them into its mold.—Romans 12:2; 1 Peter 4:4.
“Rather than viewing the clothes or the reception as the most important thing,” says Penny, “Aret and I focused on the ceremony, the spiritual part of the occasion. It was the most important part of the day. The special things I remember are, not what I wore or ate, but whom I spent the day with and the happiness I felt at marrying the man I love.” A Christian couple do well to keep such thoughts in mind as they plan their wedding.
The Kingdom Hall—A Dignified VenueMany Christian couples desire to have their wedding ceremony in a Kingdom Hall if such is available. Why do they prefer this? One couple explained their reasoning: “We realized that marriage is Jehovah’s sacred arrangement. Getting married in the Kingdom Hall, our place of worship, helped impress upon us right from the start that Jehovah needed to be part of our marriage. Another benefit of having the ceremony in the Kingdom Hall instead of at another location was that it showed our nonbelieving relatives who attended how important worship of Jehovah is for us.”
If the congregation elders responsible for the Kingdom Hall give permission for the wedding to be held there, the couple should advise them in advance of preparations that are being considered. One way the bride and groom can show due respect for those invited to the wedding is by being firmly resolved to arrive at the scheduled time for the wedding. And they will certainly want to be sure that everything is done in a dignified manner.# (1 Corinthians 14:40) They will thus avoid the outrageous displays that mark many worldly weddings.—1 John 2:15, 16.
Those who attend the wedding can also show that they have Jehovah’s view of marriage. For example, they would not expect the wedding to outdo other Christian weddings, as if there were some competition as to whose wedding was more elaborate. Mature Christians also realize that being at the Kingdom Hall for the Bible-based talk is more important and beneficial than being at a wedding feast or a gathering that might follow. If time or circumstances will permit a Christian to be present for only one of the two, being at the Kingdom Hall would certainly be preferable. An elder named William says: “If guests are needlessly absent from the Kingdom Hall but are present at the reception later, this shows a lack of appreciation for the sacredness of the occasion. Even if we are not invited to the reception, we can show our support for the bride and groom and give an excellent witness to nonbelieving relatives at the wedding by attending the ceremony at the Kingdom Hall.”
Joy That Lasts Beyond the Wedding DayThe commercial world has turned the wedding celebration into a huge industry. According to one recent report, the average wedding in the United States “costs $22,000, or half the average [annual] income of an American household.” Influenced by commercial propaganda, many newlyweds or their families incur for that one day a burdensome debt that they carry for years. Is such a course a prudent way to start one’s marriage? Those who do not know or do not care about Bible principles may opt for such extravagance, but how different it is among true Christians!
By limiting the size of their wedding to what is reasonable and affordable and by focusing on the spiritual aspect of the event, many Christian couples have been able to use their time and assets in line with their dedication to God. (Matthew 6:33) Consider the example of Lloyd and Alexandra, who have continued in the full-time ministry for 17 years since their marriage. Lloyd comments: “Some may have viewed our wedding as a rather simple event, but Alexandra and I were very pleased. We felt that our wedding day should be, not a financial burden to overcome, but a celebration of Jehovah’s arrangement to bring great happiness to two people.”
Alexandra adds: “I was in the pioneer ministry before we were married, and I did not want to give up this privilege just to have an extravagant wedding. Our wedding day was very special. However, it was only the first day of the rest of our lives together. We applied the advice to avoid concentrating too much on the act of getting married and have sought Jehovah’s guidance in our life of being married. This has definitely brought us Jehovah’s blessing.”%
He says: “Some time ago my wife, Maria, discovered a picture stored on our computer and confronted me about it. When I admitted that I regularly visited pornographic Web sites, she was livid. I felt horribly embarrassed and very guilty. I thought it was the end of our marriage.”
Do you feel that the bond between you and your mate has weakened as the years have passed? Would you like to reverse that trend? If so, you need to know the answers to three questions: What does it mean to be committed to your marriage? What challenges can undermine such commitment? And what can you do to strengthen your commitment to your mate?
What Is Commitment?How would you define commitment in marriage? Many would say that it springs from a sense of duty. For example, a couple may remain committed to their marriage because of their children or because of a duty they feel toward God, the Originator of marriage. (Genesis 2:22-24) Certainly, such motives are admirable and will help a marriage survive difficult times. But to be happy, marriage mates need to feel more than just a sense of obligation to each other.
Jehovah God designed marriage to bring a couple deep-seated joy and contentment. He intended for a man to “rejoice with [his] wife” and for a woman to love her husband and to feel that her husband loves her as he does his own body. (Proverbs 5:18; Ephesians 5:28) To create that sort of bond, a couple must learn to trust each other. Equally important, they need to develop a lifelong friendship. When a man and woman earn each other’s trust and work at becoming the best of friends, their commitment to the marriage will grow. They will form a bond the Bible describes as being so close that it is as if the two people were “one flesh.”—Matthew 19:5.
Commitment, therefore, could be likened to the mortar that binds the bricks of a sturdy house. Mortar is made from a combination of ingredients, including sand, cement, and water. Similarly, commitment is formed from a combination of such factors as duty, trust, and friendship. What may weaken that bond?
What Are the Challenges?Commitment requires hard work and self-sacrifice. It demands that you be willing to forgo your own preferences in order to please your mate. However, the concept of yielding to someone else’s wishes—of giving without asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’—has become unpopular with many and even offensive to some. But ask yourself, ‘How many selfish people do I know who have a happy marriage?’ Likely the answer is, Few if any. Why? A selfish individual will not likely remain committed to a marriage when personal sacrifice is required, especially when there is no immediate payoff for the small concessions he or she may make. Without commitment, a relationship will sour, no matter how sweet the romantic feelings were when a couple first fell in love.
The Bible realistically acknowledges that marriage is hard work. It states that “the married man is anxious for the things of the world, how he may gain the approval of his wife,” and that “the married woman is anxious for the things of the world, how she may gain the approval of her husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:33, 34) Unfortunately, even marriage mates who normally are unselfish do not always acknowledge each other’s anxieties or value their mate’s sacrifices. When a couple fail to show appreciation for each other, their marriage is bound to cause them more “tribulation in their flesh” than it would otherwise.—1 Corinthians 7:28.
If your marriage is to survive difficult times and to thrive during good times, you need to develop a long-term view of your relationship. How can you develop such an attitude, and how can you encourage your mate to remain committed to you?
How to Strengthen CommitmentA key factor is humbly to apply the advice of God’s Word, the Bible. By doing so you will “benefit yourself” and your mate. (Isaiah 48:17) Consider just two practical steps you can take.
1. Make your marriage a priority. “Make sure of the more important things,” wrote the apostle Paul. (Philippians 1:10) In God’s eyes, the way a husband and wife treat each other is very important. A man who honors his wife will be honored by God. And a woman who respects her husband has “great value in the eyes of God.”—1 Peter 3:1-4, 7.
Does your mate think that you are committed to your marriage? How can you find out?
To maintain your commitment to your marriage, make a solemn pledge not to view pornography. Despite what many may say, pornography is poison to a marriage. Note the way one wife expresses her feelings about her husband’s viewing habits: “My husband says that watching pornography spices up our love life. But it just makes me feel that I’m worthless, that I’m not enough for him. I cry myself to sleep when he watches it.” Would you say that this man is strengthening his commitment to his marriage, or is he undermining it? Do you think that he is making it easier for his wife to remain committed to the marriage? Is he treating her as his closest friend?
The faithful man Job expressed his commitment to his marriage and to his God by making ‘a covenant with his eyes.’ He was determined not to ‘show himself attentive to a virgin.’ (Job 31:1) How can you imitate Job?
In addition to avoiding pornography, you need to guard your heart from forming an inappropriate attachment to a member of the opposite sex. True, many feel that flirting with members of the opposite sex does no harm to a marriage. But God’s Word warns us: “The heart is more treacherous than anything else and is desperate. Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Has your heart fooled you? Ask yourself: ‘To whom am I most attentive—my spouse or some other member of the opposite sex? With whom do I share good news first—my spouse, or someone else? If my spouse asked me to limit my contact with an associate of the opposite sex, how would I react? Would I be resentful, or would I happily make the requested change?’
Take the InitiativeMichael and Maria, quoted at the outset, decided to ask for advice on how to resolve their issues. Of course, seeking advice is just the first step. But by being willing to face their problems and seek help, both Michael and Maria sent a clear message that they are committed to their marriage, that they are willing to work hard to make it succeed.
Whether your marriage is stable or strained, your mate needs to know that you are committed to making the marriage a success. Take whatever appropriate steps are necessary to convince your mate of that fact. Are you willing to do that?
>> Sunday, July 29, 2012
IN A remote village in India, a farmer checks the price of soybeans
in Chicago, U.S.A., to determine the best time to sell his crop. At the
same moment, a pensioner smiles as she reads an E-mail from her
grandson, a traveler sees the weather forecast at his destination, and a
mother finds helpful material for her child’s homework—all through the
Internet. With an estimated 600 million people connected worldwide, the
Internet revolution has transformed the way the world communicates and
Especially has the younger generation, sometimes called the Cyber Generation, embraced the Internet. Increasingly, students use it to replace the library as a primary source of news and research. “In a nutshell, these students are . . . virtually 100 percent connected,” said Deanna L. Tillisch, director of a study involving college seniors in the United States. Yes, the Internet is a valuable tool in our modern society.
Generally, the more powerful a tool is, the more dangerous it can be. A gas-powered chain saw can accomplish far more than a handsaw; yet, it must be used carefully. The Internet is likewise extremely powerful and useful, but we must exercise caution when using it, as it also poses serious dangers. Concern about these dangers has caused more than 40 member nations of the Council of Europe to draft an international treaty aimed at the protection of society against cybercrime.
Why all the concern? What are some of the dangers that are of particular concern to Christians? Should they cause you to avoid using the Internet? What guidance does the Bible provide?
Need for CautionCenturies ago, the Bible warned of dangers posed by evil men described as “master[s] at evil ideas” and “scheming to do bad.” (Proverbs 24:8) The prophet Jeremiah described them as “wicked men” whose “houses are full of deception.” Like birdcatchers, they “set a ruinous trap” to catch men and “gain riches.” (Jeremiah 5:26, 27) Technology has provided modern-day “wicked men” with deceptive traps of new dimensions. Let us consider some schemes that can present grave dangers for Christians.
Internet pornography is a 2.5-billion-dollar-a-year industry. The number of pornographic Web pages has grown at the explosive rate of nearly 1,800 percent over the past five years. It is estimated that there are currently over 260 million of such pages, and the number continues to grow at an unprecedented rate. “Pornography is becoming so prevalent on the Internet that it is now difficult to avoid unwanted exposure, and this makes cybersex addiction more likely,” said Dr. Kimberly S. Young, executive director of the Center for On-Line Addiction.
The Bible tells us that “each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire.” (James 1:14) Viewing anyone with a computer as a potential victim, peddlers of pornography employ a variety of tactics to appeal to each one’s “own desire,” that is, “the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes.” (1 John 2:16) Their intent is to entice—or as Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words explains, “to lure by a bait”—unsuspecting Internet users whom they “try to seduce.”—Proverbs 1:10.
STAY CLEAR OF PORNOGRAPHY!“Let fornication and uncleanness of every sort or greediness not even be mentioned among you, just as it befits holy people.”—Ephesians 5:3.
“Deaden, therefore, your body members that are upon the earth as respects fornication, uncleanness, sexual appetite, hurtful desire, and covetousness.”—Colossians 3:5.
“This is what God wills, . . . that each one of you should know how to get possession of his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in covetous sexual appetite such as also those nations have which do not know God.”—1 Thessalonians 4:3-5.
A birdcatcher carefully places seeds along a path. An unsuspecting bird pecks at one tasty seed after another until snap! the trap is sprung. Similarly, curiosity leads some to nibble at sexually stimulating imagery. And the viewers hope that no one is watching them. Finding it arousing, some return to this exciting and powerful imagery with increasing frequency. Shame and guilt may plague them. In time, what was once shocking becomes ordinary. For those inclined to view pornography, the Internet is like fertilizer that causes desires rapidly to grow into sinful actions. (James 1:15) Eventually such individuals may develop “a ‘dark side’ whose core is anti-social lust devoid of most values,” reports Dr. Victor Cline, a clinical psychologist who has treated hundreds of patients who were caught in this snare.
The Dangers of Chat RoomsInternet chat rooms can be time wasters and are increasingly associated with relationship breakdowns. Expressing frustration over the amount of time his wife spends on-line, one man wrote: “When she gets in from work, the PC goes on and it can be five or more hours before she logs off. Our marriage is suffering as a result.” Yes, time spent on the Internet is time spent away from your mate and family.
Angela Sibson, chief executive of the marriage guidance service Relate, says that the Internet “is a gateway to other relationships. They can be very potent and break up existing relationships.” What starts as a friendly on-line conversation in a chat room can quickly become something more serious. Intent on engaging in immoral relations, those “cunning of heart” use “smoothness of the tongue” to tell potential victims what they want to hear. (Proverbs 6:24; 7:10) Nicola, a 26-year-old victim from the United Kingdom, explains: “It was like a love bombardment. He kept saying how wonderful I was and I fell for it.” Dr. Al Cooper, editor of Sex and the Internet: A Guidebook for Clinicians, says that we need to “warn people about the slippery slope that starts with online flirting and too often ends in divorce.”
Children are even more vulnerable to exploitation and harm by “computer-sex offenders.” Using “crookedness of speech” and “deviousness of lips,” pedophiles target inexperienced children. (Proverbs 4:24; 7:7) Engaging in a practice known as grooming, they shower the child with attention, affection, and kindness to make the youngster feel special. They seem to know everything a child is interested in, including that one’s favorite music and hobbies. Minor problems at home are accentuated in order to drive a wedge between the child and his or her family. To fulfill their evil desires, predators may even send their target victim a ticket to travel cross-country. The results are frightening.
Bible Principles Can Safeguard YouAfter assessing the dangers, some people have concluded that it is better for them to avoid using the Internet altogether. However, it must be acknowledged that only a small percentage of sites on the Internet pose a danger and that most users have not experienced serious problems.
Thankfully, the Scriptures provide guidance to “safeguard” us from danger. We are encouraged to acquire knowledge, wisdom, and thinking ability. Such qualities will ‘keep guard over us’ to ‘deliver us from the bad way.’ (Proverbs 2:10-12) “But wisdom itself—from where does it come?” asked God’s ancient servant Job. The answer? “The fear of Jehovah—that is wisdom.”—Job 28:20, 28.
“The fear of Jehovah,” which “means the hating of bad,” is the basis for developing godly attributes. (Proverbs 1:7; 8:13; 9:10) Love and reverence for God, along with a healthy respect for his power and authority, result in our hating and avoiding the bad things he hates. Clear thinking ability, coupled with godly knowledge, helps us recognize dangers that can poison our mind, heart, and spirituality. We come to abhor selfish and greedy attitudes that can wreck our family and destroy our relationship with Jehovah.
So if you use the Internet, be aware of the dangers. Be resolved to keep God’s commandments, and avoid flirting with trouble. (1 Chronicles 28:7) Then, if Internet dangers confront you, you will wisely flee from them.—1 Corinthians 6:18.
BEWARE OF INTERNET CHAT ROOMS!A female police detective specializing in Internet crime invited Awake! to see the dangers of Internet chat rooms. She entered a chat room, posing as a 14-year-old girl. After just a few seconds, a number of individuals made contact. The strangers asked such questions as: “Where are you from?” “Are you a girl or a boy?” “Can we talk?” Several responses were from suspected sexual predators whom the police were tracking. That shows how easily a pedophile can get into a chat room with your child!
Some parents think that children are safe when using chat rooms because their conversations are accessible by everyone in the chat room while the discussion is taking place. However, once in a chat room, you can be invited to have a one-on-one conversation. Referring to this practice, sometimes called whispering, the United Kingdom’s Internet Taskforce on Child Protection warns: “This is like stepping out of a party full of people into a private room and having a separate conversation with a stranger.”
It is also important for parents to understand that most pedophiles want to do more than chat with a child. A paper prepared by the Internet Crime Forum reports: “Contact initiated in chat rooms may well be developed through other media, such as email and (mobile) phone.” A report from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation states: “While talking to a child victim on-line is a thrill for a computer-sex offender, it can be very cumbersome. Most want to talk to the children on the telephone. They often engage in ‘phone sex’ with the children and often seek to set up an actual meeting for real sex.”
To accomplish this, computer-sex offenders will give out their phone number. Should your child call them, caller ID will reveal the child’s phone number. Other predators have toll-free numbers or tell the child to call collect. Some have even sent the child a cell phone. Offenders may also send letters, photographs, and gifts.
Children are not the only ones succumbing to the dangers of chat rooms. Using smooth speech to tell women what they wanted to hear, one man recently made six women in the United Kingdom fall in love with him at the same time. One of the victims, Cheryl, an attractive 27-year-old postgraduate student, said: “I just can’t explain it now. It became so intense it took over my whole life.”
“Women find cyberspace comforting because they are not being judged by their looks,” said Jenny Madden, the founder of Women in Cyberspace. “But they also leave themselves very open to manipulation because there is a tendency, in chat rooms particularly, to give away a lot about yourself very quickly.”
“All I have to do is turn on my computer and I have thousands of women to choose from,” said one man questioned for a University of Florida research study conducted by Beatriz Avila Mileham. She stated: “The internet will soon become the most common form of infidelity, if it isn’t already.” “We are hearing from therapists around the country reporting online sexual activity to be a major cause of marital problems,” said Dr. Al Cooper, editor of the book Sex and the Internet: A Guidebook for Clinicians.
In view of these sobering facts, it is wise to take sensible precautions when using the Internet. Talk to your children, and teach them how to protect themselves from danger. Equipped with proper knowledge, you can avoid the dangers of the Internet.—Ecclesiastes 7:12.
AS A parent, which situation would make you more
nervous—knowing that your son or daughter had the keys to the family
car or knowing that he or she had unrestricted access to the Internet?
Both activities involve a measure of danger. And both require a level of
responsibility. Parents cannot forever restrict their children from
operating a vehicle, but they can make sure that their children
are taught to drive safely. Many parents take a similar approach to use
of the Internet. The following Bible principles will help.
“Everyone shrewd will act with knowledge.” (Proverbs 13:16) Parents whose children have Internet access need to have a basic understanding of how the Internet works and what their children are doing when instant messaging, browsing Web pages, or engaging in other online activities. “Don’t conclude that you are too old or uneducated to learn,” says Marshay, a mother of two. “Keep up with the technology.”
“One isolating himself will seek his own selfish longing; against all practical wisdom he will break forth.” (Proverbs 18:1) A study in the United Kingdom revealed that nearly 1 in 5 youths between the ages of 9 and 19 had Internet access in their bedroom. Having the computer in a busy area helps parents to keep tabs on what their children are doing online and may encourage the children to avoid undesirable sites.
Of course, you cannot monitor your children when they are outside the home. It is important, therefore, to instill proper values in your children so that they will make wise decisions when they are not in your presence.* (Philippians 2:12) Spell out clearly what the consequences will be if your rules regarding the Internet are broken. Then enforce those rules.
“[A good mother] is watching over the goings-on of her household.” (Proverbs 31:27) Monitor your children’s use of the Internet, and let them know that you will be doing so. This is not an invasion of privacy. Remember, the Internet is a public forum. The Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States recommends that parents maintain access to their children’s online accounts and randomly check their e-mail and the Web sites that they have visited.
You Can Protect Your ChildrenProtecting your children from online dangers takes effort, and electronic access to media is constantly changing. New technologies may bring unique advantages and unprecedented risks to children. How can parents prepare their children for future dangers? “Wisdom is for a protection the same as money is for a protection,” says the Bible.—Ecclesiastes 7:12.
Help your children to become wise. Also help them to understand how to avoid online dangers and use the Internet responsibly. Thus, the Internet can be a tool that will not threaten the safety of your children.
FOR a time, it seemed that Internet safety was simply a matter of
computer location. Keep the computer in a public area, it was thought,
and your children will be less likely to veer toward the dark side of
cyberspace. While that notion is still valid—common sense dictates
against giving children Internet access in the privacy of their
bedroom—it is not the final word in safety. These days wireless
connections make it possible for youngsters to take the Internet with
them wherever they go. Even many cell phones are equipped with online
access. Then there are Internet cafés, Internet kiosks, libraries, and
the old standby, a friend’s house. With so many options, it is easy to
see how a youth’s online escapades can slip past a parent’s radar.
What Parents Should Know
Consider some of the online activities that many youths are attracted to and their potential dangers.
E-MAILSWhat are they? Written messages that are sent electronically.
What is the appeal? E-mail is a fast and inexpensive way to correspond with friends and family.
What you should know. Unsolicited e-mails, often called spam, can be more than just a nuisance. Often they contain suggestive or blatantly obscene content. Links inside messages may prompt the user—including an unsuspecting child—to volunteer personal information, which can lead to identity theft. Replying to such e-mails—even with the firm request to stop sending e-mails—will confirm that the user has an active e-mail address, which may lead to further unsolicited e-mails.
WEB SITESWhat are they? Collections of electronic pages created and maintained by organizations, educational institutions, businesses, and individuals.
What is the appeal? Millions of sites are available, providing youths with endless opportunities to shop, do research, connect with friends, and play or download games and music.
What you should know. The Web has been exploited by all manner of unscrupulous individuals. Many Web sites feature explicit sex, and these are easy for the unwary to stumble upon. In the United States, for example, 90 percent of youths surveyed between the ages of 8 and 16 said that they had unintentionally encountered pornography online—in most cases while doing homework!
The Web also provides easy access to sites that promote teen gambling. In Canada, nearly 1 in 4 males surveyed in grades 10 and 11 admitted to having visited such sites, and experts are understandably concerned because of the highly addictive nature of online gambling. Then there are so-called pro-ana Web sites that glorify “the anorectic lifestyle.”* Meanwhile, hatemongering sites target minority religious and ethnic groups. Some sites teach how to make bombs, concoct poisons, and conduct terrorist operations. Depictions of extreme violence and bloody gore are prevalent in online games.
CHAT ROOMSWhat are they? Electronic spaces for live text conversation, usually centered around a specific topic or interest.
What is the appeal? Your child can communicate with a number of individuals whom he or she may never have met but who share a common interest.
What you should know. Predators commonly frequent chat rooms hoping to lure a child into an online or even a face-to-face sexual encounter. Consider what happened when one of the authors of the book What in the World Are Your Kids Doing Online? was researching Internet safety. As part of her research, she posed online as a 12-year-old. “Almost immediately,” reports the book, “she was invited by someone into a private chat room. She claimed she didn’t know how to get into it, and her helpful new friend walked her through the process. Then he wanted to know if she wanted to have [online] sex.”
INSTANT MESSAGESWhat are they? Live text conversations between two or more individuals.
What is the appeal? With instant messaging, a user can choose which of his friends he will converse with, selecting from a contact list he has created. Not surprisingly, a Canadian study reports that 84 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds instant message their friends and that they do this for more than an hour a day.
What you should know. Instant-message conversations can be distracting if your child is supposed to be studying or engaging in another activity that requires concentration. In addition, how can you be sure with whom your son or daughter is communicating? After all, you cannot hear the conversation.
BLOGSWhat are they? Online diaries.
What is the appeal? Blogging gives youths the opportunity to write about their thoughts, passions, and activities. Most blogs allow space for readers to leave comments, and many kids are thrilled to know that someone has responded to their writing.
What you should know. A blog is open to the public. Some youths carelessly reveal information that can be used to identify their family, school, or home address. Another factor: Blogs can harm reputations, including the blogger’s own. For instance, some employers consult an applicant’s blog when considering whether to hire that person.
—Robert S. Mueller III, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
ONLINE SOCIAL NETWORKSWhat are they? Sites that allow youths to create a Web page and enhance it with pictures, videos, and blogs.
What is the appeal? Creating and enhancing a Web page enables a young person to express his or her identity. Online social networks allow young ones to meet many new “friends.”
What you should know. “A social networking site is like an online party,” says a girl named Joanna. “Some very scary people can show up.” The personal information posted on social networks can be exploited by unscrupulous youths and adults. Thus, Internet safety expert Parry Aftab calls such sites “one stop shopping for sexual predators.”
Furthermore, Internet friendships tend to be superficial. On their Web pages, some youths accumulate a number of online contacts whom they have never met face-to-face, simply to appear popular to others who visit their site. In her book Generation MySpace, Candice Kelsey writes that it really comes down to “judging a person’s social stock value merely by how many other people like him or her.” She adds: “This commodities-trading style of relating reduces our children to nonhuman entities and places an inordinate amount of pressure to represent themselves in whatever way will gain them more friends.” Thus, What in the World Are Your Kids Doing Online? asks a valid question: “How do you make it clear that children need to develop empathy and compassion when the electronic world allows them to meet and discard people at the drop of a hat?”