Thought Factory Podcast #404 || Digital Life Series: The Internet Never Forgets

In this episode, we continue giving students survival skills to help them forge their digital footprint through the world they live in.  The internet is more of a reflection of who we are than what we say we are.  How we navigate technology gives us insight into our heart because every click makes a mark, what is called Internet Permanence, even if we delete our history, the Internet never forgets.  How can we help students understand this concept and give them tools to succeed in navigating this digital world?


(Jeff) So for many years my wife, Arianna and I taught a marriage class.  Hundreds of couples came through it and in that class, we had a guest, a financial adviser friend of mine.  He would teach our class on the financial segment and tell them that 20th and 21st-century life skills.  If you have a financial skill set, that’s a survival skill that you need to know.  If you don’t have survival skills in the area of finance, you’ll crash and burn.  I think the same can be said for the digital life. That having the survival skills to be able to navigate through life because as I’ve heard you say, Chris, you can’t go through a day in modern American society, even if you don’t have a smartphone without being affected by the digital world.

Talk to us a little bit about helping students have a digital survival skill set for the 21st-century.
“I think it is necessary to have some digital IQ.  We can’t bubble-wrap our kids and then one day send them off to college and expect them to navigate technology responsibly.  That’s just not preparing them for the real world nor can we just let them figure it out on their own.  There’s this hard work in the middle as ministry leaders and as parents of guiding kids and a balance on both sides of this.  So, whether you’re young or old, the Internet inherently desires control over its users.  I have found that to be abundantly true in my own life that if I just pick up the device, I’m bound to just click.  If I haven’t put in place certain intentional controls around my usage, eventually the Internet will control me instead of me controlling it.  An essential tool, whether you are 14 or 40, when it comes to using technology is to have some guidelines – guard rails, accountability, whatever you want to call it in place around what you see and how you use the device.  So typically that’s talked about in terms of the content that’s viewed right?  Whether it’s some sort of filtering that’s in place, just to filter out the junk.  I would argue that it’s not just porn addicts who need filtering.  I think in order to guard our eyes from worthless things as Scripture compels us to do, that we should all only use the internet in a filtered state.  Is that from time to time going to create an inconvenience where you can’t get to something?  Yes.  But I think that’s a small price to pay for the benefit of guarding my eyes from things that are so compelling towards the second click.

An essential tool for our kids today is to teach them what to do when something happens not if.  It’s not if, in the digital world, it’s only a matter of when they will see something you don’t want them to.  It’s only a matter of when somebody they shouldn’t be talking to will try to talk to them or will try to comment on something on social media. 

So a survival tool for kids today is to have in their tool belt, multiple tools that they know what to do when something inappropriate happens on the Internet.  What do I do when I see an appropriate image?  What do I do when somebody who I don’t know asks me a nice question?  See, as good kids, you have been taught to be nice to other people therefore when somebody asks you a seemingly innocent, nice question, you’re compelled to answer it.  You feel that it’s mean not to. 

One of the tools I give kids is, I give nice kids permission not to answer seemingly nice questions from people they don’t know.  You need to give them that permission.  Inherently they’re going to think that that’s mean.  I should know if somebody I don’t know sees a post that I put on social media and says, ‘hey, I like to play soccer too.  Where do you play?’   That’s a tricky question.  From somebody you don’t know, you should never answer.  Sounds innocent but we need to give our kids some of these predator proof tools that I think go against the grain as to what they would inherently do if we didn’t give them that specific win scenario.”

We’ve likened that to back in the day, you needed to know how to build a fire if you’re going to live as a human being.  Some parents said to me, ‘I don’t let my kids touch a digital device.  I don’t let them do anything at all digitally.’  I have mixed reactions to that.

“A part of me says, ‘yes, we need to be super cautious.’  The other part of me goes, ‘but as parents are you preparing them for reality?’  Because the reality is when they’re at school, they’re in the digital realm whether they like it or not.”

What’s your response to the bubble wrapping idea?
“I’m always hesitant to try to teach or tell a parent how to parent because, at the end of the day, it’s their kid.  They know best and I don’t want to sound judgmental in any way.  But, if a parent were to come to me in that situation, my statement to them would be, ‘that’s great!’  Say no as long as you want but teach them as if you had said yes.  I’m okay with your no, but to that kid who doesn’t have access to technology in your home, think about the width of their world and what is the probability that in the midst they will run into a digital device of some kind?  Probably pretty high.  Therefore, even though the situation of running into something inappropriate may not happen on your network in your home, what if it happens somewhere else?  That’s where in the tool belt needs to be tools for the ‘when’s’ even if it doesn’t happen in your home.  Do they know what to do?

There’s a balance there.  Where you’ve got to give them enough to know what to do when they’re outside of your control.

Let me speak to younger youth workers right now, especially if you don’t have children.  Don’t ever tell a parent what they should or shouldn’t do.  Be easy on those parents.  Encourage them.”

We were talking about the fire analogy.  Talk to us more about that. 
“As a species, we depended a lot more on fire than we do today.  It was an essential part of everyday life.  Fire, since the beginning of the first spark, has always had the ability to burn, maim or kill because of those attributes.  It doesn’t mean that we’re going to find a different way to cook our meal, we’re just not going to use that fire thing anymore.  Let’s get working on a different method.   No, no we determined there were good and bad ways to use fire and there were responsible ways to do so.  I think that we can draw the same conclusions with technology. Everything in life that can be used for our benefit always has a way that it can hurt us. 

That’s the tension that I find in John 10:10 we use this one with the kids to say the thief comes to rob, steal, and destroy, but I(Jesus) have come that they may have life.   I think every good situation has that tension in that comma of choose.  To use it well, put tools, parameters, guidelines whatever you need in your life to use that thing well.  Do it well and you’ll probably have an enjoyable experience.  Do it poorly, irresponsibly, carelessly, you’re going to get hurt.  Maybe irreparably. 

There are unbelievable things we can do with technology from a gospel perspective that we weren’t able to do when the three of us were young.  Let’s take advantage of those things.  Let’s put the tools and the necessary guardrails in place to use it well and teach our kids to do the same.”

You use the phrase the “internet never forgets” Talk to us about that.
Another way of saying it is Internet Permanence.  This idea that every click has a digital footprint attached to it.  Just because it’s no longer in my feed because I deleted it or whatever.  It’s bits and bytes of data and it’s somewhere in some fashion, that hit a tower, hit a router, hits something.  So the problem with the Internet is that it begs for an immediate response.  Everything about the Internet says click now, do now. Now it screams.  For young people who already struggle with some executive decision making, just due to their neurological development, something in their hands that screams now preys on them.  Unfortunately, if kids aren’t taught this idea it may be possible for me to show my granddaughter my Instagram feed from when I’m was going to junior high. Are you going to be proud in front of your children, future employers, whoever of your seventh-grade social media feed?  If not, change your behavior now because it’ll still be there.

So some of the phrases we use are, the Internet is like a giant Sharpie.  Many of us have used a Sharpie in the wrong place and you scrub and scrub and scrub and you try to get it off and no matter how hard you try even if you get all the Sharpie off you’ve probably rubbed away part of the surface.  You can always tell where the Sharpie was in some way and that’s a lot like every single click on the device that’s in our hands.  That has an impact on future college scholarships.  That has an impact on future employment.  That has an impact on future relationships.

I think all of that comes into play because the Internet is often a more accurate reflection of who we are than what we say we are.  I tell parents, ‘you want to know a lot about your kids? Look at their clicks.’ How they navigate technology will tell you more about their hearts than the grunts that you got out of your seventh-grade boy when he came home from school.  It’s a great insight into who they are but we need to give them respect, for every one of those clicks is leaving a mark.”

Chris, I know that you have a resource that you are working on, ready to release.  Why don’t you describe that a little bit more?
Protect Young Eyes was built as a free place for parents to come and consume as much information as they want.  What we’ve discovered as we’ve traveled is that there’s this void that exists in the curriculum that schools would use for digital citizenship or that youth pastors might use in teaching in a small group setting on how to use technology responsibly with a biblical foundation.  It’s what we’ve called Virtue in Media.  It’s a subscription to curriculum, that is video-based, plug and play –  show at two to three-minute video about the Internet never forgets and then there is a small group discussion.  There’s content to send home to parents both in English and in Spanish.  There is an example of digital policies that youth ministries could have in place for the appropriate use of technology between students and adult leaders which is a really hot topic right now in terms of liability for churches and trying to mitigate some of that with policies.  We’ve built all of that into virtue and media so that churches and youth ministries can create transformation around how kids use their technology and be doing that in a way that’s intentional.  And get parents on board just so that everybody is moving in the same direction. 

I’d love for as many of those listening to go and check that out.  If it’s a blessing to you, I’d really appreciate if you had a chance to use it.”

So where can they check that out?
Website is



70% of employers say they look at social media when they are making a hire, so we thought we would give you 7 ways to avoid being hired in the future:

Ways to avoid being hired in the future.

  • Provocative or inappropriate photos or posts.
  • Content about drinking or using drugs.
  • Bad-mouthing a previous employer.
  • Sharing confidential information from a previous employer.
  • Poor communications skills.
  • Discriminatory comments based on race, gender or religion.
  • Lies about qualifications.

Grid by which to filter all future posts: THINK

True – Is it true?

Helpful – is it helpful for someone else?

Inspiring – is it inspiring?

Necessary – does it need to be posted?

Kind – is it kind?

Think before you post.

I think the world would be a much better place if we all did this.  As believers, we are responsible for the message that we send.  We’re responsible as youth workers to help students and to guide them in ways of creating a digital footprint that’s honoring to God and that does our part to redeem this world for Him.  To make it a better place.


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