One in five American children or teenagers, both boys and girls, will receive a sexual solicitation from someone on the Internet this year, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, or NCMEC.
NCMEC is a nongovernmental organization that receives significant funding from the US government and is located near Washington, D.C. As NCMEC explains, the Internet is a useful tool, like a knife, but like a knife, it can also be dangerous.
Our children need to know how to navigate the Internet safely and to be unswayed by Internet predators, who are skillful in techniques of manipulation. Anyone interested in protecting children needs to be aware of the threat and of the unscrupulous means used to corrupt our children.
NCMEC's www.netsmartz.org, an informative and interactive educational website, is one source. Another website, also created by NCMEC, is www.cybertipline.com. These are helpful springboards for parents to examine and discuss the issues with their children. I am a dad deeply concerned for the safety of my children; this is a subject my wife and I feel strongly about.
Besides raising awareness of the issues, there is another way to help. That is through proactive prayer. It's important to realize that the exploitation of children has been going on for centuries, long before Jesus' time. It's helpful to look at how Jesus dealt with it. He didn't ignore it; he condemned it. He said, "Whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea" (Mark 9:42).
The Greek verb translated as "offend" in this passage has a significant root meaning of "entice" or "entrap." If Jesus alerted his disciples to the danger of child entrapment, I think it's well for us to take notice. This is not something we can ignore, whether we are parents or not.
Proactive prayer starts with affirming the all-power of God. This power fills all space and time, and is a real presence, especially in time of trouble. Kids need to know that God not only exists but also loves them.
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, defined God as Father-Mother, and in a public talk she gave in Chicago, declared: "God is not part, but the whole. In His individuality I recognize the loving, divine Father-Mother God" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," page 102). We need to pray daily to see better this Father-Mother God not as part of all existence, but the whole of it.
There can be no area in "real" space or cyberspace that is walled off from God. The whole is filled to the brim with Love. Our seeing of this spiritual reality will help to clean the general moral atmosphere. This is no effete dreaminess. It is polishing up humanity's spiritual armor.
Our prayers may lead us to take certain actions to express more of the wholesomeness of God, such as volunteering in classrooms or on athletic fields, sitting in the park and praying for the playing children, or acknowledging the integrity of the teenager on the street with a greeting, or attempting to open greater opportunities for dialogue with children in our families or church. We can become alert to evil attempts to ensnare children, and report them. We might feel impelled to engage in community activities that support these goals.
Our children need to know that they are embraced by this universal, divine Parent. As they learn of this Parenthood of God, they can be encouraged to take their growing-up frustrations to this perfect, always listening Father-Mother, rather than to a chat room on the Internet. They are never too young to pray.
We can support their turning to God through our vehement denials of the false attractions of evil and equally strong affirmations of God's tender care. We can know that God's goodness is never boring, never has any condemnation attached to it, but is always fresh and exciting. The way we live our lives can help the kids around us and can help destroy the appeal of Internet predators.