I hear it at every parent workshop I teach. The question goes something like this:
“What is the best Internet filtering software I can use to protect my kids?”
It’s an understandable question.
“What porn blockers are the most effective?”
But is it the right question?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not dismissing the benefits of parental controls, activity monitoring or Internet filtering. Software like Net Nanny, Covenant Eyes or even accountability software like X3Watch can provide very helpful guardrails.
But understand 2 undeniable facts every parent needs to recognize:
- These filters and controls don’t block everything
You can’t block it all. Your kids can still access porn if they want to. They’ll hear inappropriate language anyway. They’ll discover gaps in filtering software. They can look at content on their friend’s devices. Yes, our world is just as messed up as when we were kids, but our kids don’t have to go to such great lengths to discover these distractions. In fact, statistically speaking, they’ll probably stumble upon them accidentally at some point.
In my book More Than Just the Talk: Becoming Your Kids’ Go-To Person About Sex, I interviewed Craig Gross, founder of XXXChurch, a ministry dedicated to helping people overcome porn addictions. The day I interviewed him, he happened to be installing a router in his home that filters inappropriate content at the router level as opposed to installing software on each device. This way, all devices connecting to Internet and Wi-Fi through his home would have filters—even his kids’ friends when they visited.
I asked him, “Well, couldn’t your kids’ friends just bypass your Wi-Fi and use their Verizon or AT&T for a signal and access anything they want?
Craig was silent for a moment, then answered, “Well… yeah.”
Let that sink in for a moment. I’m interviewing one of the chief experts on porn filtering about porn blocks for young people… and even he admitted that there are simple circumvents to the most powerful filters. This isn’t a “dis” on Craig. This is just reality. Unless we lock our kids in a device-free dungeon and never let them come up for air (I don’t recommend this, by the way)… they’ll probably stumble upon inappropriate content someday.
The question parents need to ask is, “Am I preparing them to make good decisions when they encounter this content?”
Which leads to my next undeniable fact…
- Our kids can download whatever they want when they are 18
Even if parents opt to lock their kids in the dungeon and never let them venture outside, log onto a device, go to school, play on a sports team with other kids, or connect with anyone else their age… when said teenager turns 18, he or she can join the Army, go to college, get a job at Panera to pay for their new iPhone 7… and browse every app and website they’ve missed for the last 18 years of their life! And if mom and dad never walked with them through many of these experiences, this 18-year-old will be figuring this out on their own.
My kids were pretty open with me when they went off to college—Christian College. I remember my son talking to me on the phone and telling me, “Everyone here watches Game of Thrones. I just watched it with some guys down the hall… and Dad… there is some crazy sex in that show. I don’t mean just a quick sex scene, I mean…” and he described what he saw in great detail.
What will your kids decide to watch when they’re in a dorm by themself and you’re not standing over their shoulder?
It’s inevitable. Our kids will eventually be making these decisions on their own. Are we equipping them for that moment?
The moment might be sooner than you’d think.
I get the opportunity to speak to kids around the world encouraging them that Sex Matters. These speaking venues provide plenty of opportunities to dialogue candidly with young people when their parents aren’t around. Interestingly enough, kids are pretty open with me about the content they access on their devices (maybe because I’m a stranger who provides truth, doesn’t judge… and is gone the next day). You’d be shocked to hear what these kids tell me about images they have seen or content they frequent.
I’m always quick to ask, “Where did you see that?”
The number one answer: “Oh, at my friends’ house.”
What is a parent to do… never let their kids go to friends’ houses?
So what’s the answer?
Walk with Them
In my upcoming book, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, I share research about 3 types of parents. The first parent is the ‘limiter’ parent. This parent excels in rules and boundaries, in hopes that limiting their child will save them from harmful influences. In a world where over three quarters of young people own smartphones, these kids with limited access often don’t learn how to make good choices in the area of entertainment and social media. Those choices are made for them by their ‘limiter’ parent. This kid eventually has to learn how to discern on their own.
The second parent is the ‘enabler’ parent. This parent has a philosophy of “anything goes.” Their kids got their first smartphones at age 9, were browsing social media at age 11 (lying about their age to be on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat) and learning most lessons through the school of hard knocks.
The third parent is what I call the ‘walk with’ parent. This is the parent who takes the advice of the countless parenting experts out there who recommend co-viewing and co-playing entertainment media and games, looking at social media together with their kids, sharing music, playing games together… and yes… even setting healthy limits for the whole family.
This advice isn’t new; in fact it’s thousands of years old. Moses laid out the same advice in Deuteronomy, Chapter 6 when he told God’s people to impress God’s truth to our children as they walk along the road, as they get up, as they go to bed at night. It wasn’t about rules as much as it was conversations.
Funny… the advice to parents hasn’t changed much. Truth is truth. And our kids will glean much more from us through conversations than mere rules and filters.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying bypass rules or Internet filters. Guardrails are great at helping us stay on course. But nothing beats a parent sitting right next to their teen driver, assuring them, “You can do this.”
What does that look like in your home this week?
How can you connect with your over connected kids?
What guardrails might be helpful in your home?
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