The news and the general blogosphere have been giving a bigger emphasis to issues of child abuse and criminal sexual misconduct since the Penn State scandal broke loose. Within a short period of time Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, updated the school’s policy regarding the obligation to report instances of child abuse:
I discovered yesterday that the policy handbook of the institution I am proud to lead calls for any employee receiving a report of child abuse, including child sexual abuse, to contact his or her supervisor with that report. That changes today. The new policy statement will direct employees receiving such a report to contact law enforcement authorities without delay. Then, after acting in the interests of the child, they should contact their supervisor.
Mohler believes we should learn from this incident and take precautions to minimize the vulnerability of our ministries and churches to this kind of sin. I think he’s right.
Why are we all vulnerable to this kind of abuse and scandal? Because children are vulnerable. In the home, in the church, in school, and virtually everywhere but Chuck-E-Cheese’s, kids are expected to be in submission to others. They are dependent on the grown-ups (and even older kids) in their lives for almost everything. They are weak, both in mind and physical strength. Such fragility necessarily means vulnerability.
At home, we expect our children to do as they’re told. We tell them to listen to their teachers and follow their coaches’ leading. These are generally good things. Children haven’t matured to the point where they can take care of themselves and make well-thought-out decisions in life. I’m not even sure I’m to that point yet, so I know the kids and youth most certainly aren’t.
As kids get older, they can become even more vulnerable, not because they can’t defend themselves or because they can’t think through the issues, but because they have more independence and may or may not have the background, training, or common sense to make good and safe decisions. Enter Facebook.
An Online World
Almost as soon as children and youth were granted access to instant messaging and email back in the 90’s, the world was introduced to a new term: online predator. The false anonymity the internet affords us makes us a little bolder than we really are (try meeting some of the more vocal bloggers in real life). But it is a false anonymity. It is too easy to track people down via the information they share on personal blogs, Twitter, and the megalith of disclosure, Facebook.
I’ve discovered a lot more than I want to know about some of the members of our church’s youth group on Facebook, which creeps me out a little. In just a few minutes I could figure out where one of these kids gets on the bus and what time, where he goes to school, what time he gets out for the day, and a host of other information. Though most, I would hope, are smart enough not to post their address online, the other information they share makes it easy to identify. A parent’s name and an online phone directory could easily do the trick. But since they share what time they’re getting off of work, where and what movie showing they’re going to see, and other activities, they are exposing themselves to the world and making themselves more vulnerable.
I decided to peruse some of the Facebook photos that some of the youth kids had uploaded to see what they were sharing with the world. I exited rather quickly because I felt like a creeper. No pornography, thank goodness (they are church kids after all), but there were plenty of pictures from slumber parties, short shorts, and some very immodest tops. I felt like a creeper just perusing the public albums of some well-behaved youth group teenagers. I ask myself, Surely their parents must know what these kids are posting here? Some may not know. Most should. And don’t call me Shirley.
What are We to Do?
For one, don’t peruse a minor’s online photo album, unless that minor is your child or your child’s friend. A little parental awareness can go a long way. In light of Penn State, the vulnerability of our kids and teens, and the openness of Facebook, I have a few suggestions:
Everybody—Share the gospel. The gospel truly is the answer to rebelliousness, immodesty, foolishness, emotional scars from past abuse, and everything. We don’t just want our kids to develop into smart, responsible citizens. We hope and long for them to experience salvation.
On top of that, keep an eye out for all the kids. That may mean talking to another parent about the things their kid is sharing on Facebook. It may mean making sure nobody is alone with a child, especially if your church is like our Hispanic church—a small number of people with a big building where it is easy to find yourself alone with somebody.
Parents—Teach your kids about what is acceptable for an adult to do and what is not. Kids don’t need to be afraid of grownups, but they do need to know when they should run and disobey what a grownup says, even if that grownup is a family member or close friend.
Monitor your children’s use of the internet. You don’t need to hover over your kids, especially if they have shown themselves to be responsible and make wise decisions. But you still need to check. Make them friend you on Facebook and share their information with you. With Google Circles and Facebook lists, it is now easier for people to limit what information is shared with others. It also makes it easier for kids to keep their parents in the dark about what they put on Facebook.
Make your children memorize Proverbs. Not the whole book, but some key words of wisdom from the Word. And memorize some for yourself. Children who grow up valuing and applying wisdom have a much better chance of turning out a little better than their peers. Maybe you won’t have to tell them not to post that picture or share that status update.
Ministers—Including youth pastors and others in pastoral leadership. Preach the gospel. Teach wisdom. Teach modesty. Its fun to develop a youth study based on the new popular movie or TV show, but kids don’t need what’s hot, they need what’s wise. My wife certainly didn’t dress like an Amish woman through high school and college, but she was modest. That’s one of the reasons I fell in love with her. Guys and girls need to know what authentic manhood and womanhood is.
Also, make your church staff and membership aware of the need to protect and watch out for our children. We are told in Scripture to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). Though I doubt Paul had protecting our children from predators, I believe it is an appropriate modern-day implication of both this passage and the more generalized command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
I’m not an expert on child abuse or child molestation. I’m glad God’s called me to work in Human Resources right now instead of law enforcement or social services. So this is an open invitation. Share your thoughts, your advice for protecting the children who are under our watch and care. This is a serious issue, and one we can’t afford to ignore.