Ten years after AOL started inundating us with free disks of their system (and my uncle started getting new coasters), JT was born. Eighteen months after that, JT started sitting on my lap while I did drafting homework and wrote an email Bible study. From his earliest memory, he has considered the computer and internet a normal part of everyday life.
His internet access is very limited. We were not those parents who let him have full access to Nickelodeon or Disney.com. Neither our X-Box nor our Wii is hooked up to the internet. His Kindle occasionally has access so he can play Minecraft with his friends and look up videos. And he can go on the desktop to check email and online assignments.
This last week I got a new computer causing a landslide that resulted in him getting a small, five-year-old laptop. I cleaned it out, loaded some wallpaper I thought he'd like, and put it in the guest room. He was ecstatic. I caught him sprawled on the bed and had to explain you don't put a laptop on upholstery if you don't want the comforter to catch on fire. But that wasn't the only learning curve.
Dev noticed there were new programs loaded on it. I hadn't taken it off the wifi, but JT understood he wasn't to go on the internet. So where…?
JT explained that he'd been looking at pictures, not YouTube, but he hadn't gone on the internet. He and Dev had that communications disconnect common to fathers and Jr. High-aged sons. I had an epiphany.
He was so used to computers and YouTube that he didn't actually have a clear idea of what the internet was. Or that "internet" was the point of wifi. He didn't understand that it was the internet that let him and his friends to play Minecraft on their Kindles. He didn't know that you can't download a program or pictures without being on the internet. Or even go to the Amazon store and get Angry Birds.
Whiplash parenting moment. One minute we're mad at him for getting on the internet and downloading pictures and programs. The next we realize he doesn't actually know what the internet is.
So I tried to explain. His computer with the programs is like our DVDs that we own and put on the player and show on TV. The internet is like the channels on TV. We can control our DVDs, but we can't control what the satellite channels play. And even though we can take steps to filter what we have access to, it doesn't mean something won't pop up that we really don't want to see.
JT's now talking about "when we trust him with the internet." He doesn't realize it's the other way around. But it was a good reminder that despite his instinctual knowledge of computers, it doesn't mean he understands what's behind the clicks. The FBI has some activities we need to have him go through, and he did take an internet safety class at school. But, ultimately, it's our responsibility to make sure he understands what's really happening when he boots up his devices.
Kersley Fitzgerald is a former Air Force officer, former Air Force wife, and current editor of Got Questions’ blog site, Blogos.org. She and her husband adopted JT from Thailand when he was 18 months old. He has spent the ensuing years teaching her more about God than any theology course could.