5 Ways to Protect Your Kids from Online Pornography (and other threats)

When my son gets a little older and starts playing sports, I think I’m going to give him a bottle of prescription pain pills.

I’ll tell him to use them responsibly, but what he does with them is his business. After all, he’ll be eight or so by then, and he needs to learn how to handle responsibility. Plus, considering pills are not damaging in themselves, it’s all in how you use them. I want him to make good choices, and people only learn from their mistakes, right? It’s the world they’re growing up in. Someday they’ll grow up and (in the “real world”) a doctor will prescribe them pills for pain. They need to know how to use them.

You’ve got to let your kids be their own people, after all.

Sometimes I really wish I had a sarcasm font. The above would never happen and, if it did, I would be the first to call Child Protective Services on myself! It’s preposterous! It would make me the world’s worst parent, and I would have 15 minutes of well-earned “top story at 6:oo” spotlight.

Yet everyday, all over our nation, we are giving our kids unfettered access to a part of life that—managed poorly—could be addictive, destructive, maladaptive, socially scarring, and formative to a young person’s worldview. We allow kids internet access with little or no supervision. The attitude of the times is all about letting kids learn through their own mistakes, giving as little guidance as possible, refusing to “censor” what our elementary-aged kids are consuming (oh, the oppression that would bring), and we send them through their lives with all this literally in their pocket, always a tap, click, or swipe away from danger.

Our teens have the world at their fingertips...but at what cost?

Our teens have the world at their fingertips…but at what cost? [photo from picjumbo.com]

One recent article says that men are first introduced to pornography around age 12, but many statistics point to a much earlier exposure. Meanwhile, we wait until kids are of dating age in High School before even acknowledging that sex exists. Good luck with that. Here are some other gems worth mentioning:

  • 28% of 16-17 year olds have been unintentionally exposed to porn online.
  • 69% of boys and 55% of girls have seen same-sex intercourse online.
  • 83% of boys and 57% of girls have seen group sex online.
  • 71% of teens hide online behavior from their parents.

How about that last one? Think your teen is being honest with you? Odds are, you need to think again. The internet—while useful for many things when harnessed for good—is a cesspool for deviant behavior that can trap, ensnare, and eventually enslave our next generation.

So it’s time that we cut the throat of the pornography industry out once and for all by training up a generation that knows how to avoid it, and sees it for the stinking, putrid, revolting, diseased serpent that it is.

We need to raise up a generation that sees value in restriction, wisdom in accountability, and pushes one another to a better existence than the sex-crazed environment that we’ve been told is “normal” in our high schools.

1. Restrict App Downloads

This is so easy, I’m not sure why everyone doesn’t do it already. It can start with a password on the Google Play or Apple ID accounts that allow apps to be downloaded to your teen’s devices. By having them run app downloads through you, you keep an eye on how they are consuming the internet and can red-flag whatever you deem necessary. Beyond just a password, you can turn off App Store Downloads in the settings menu (see below for instructions), or download accountability software to monitor each device, or each user. My wife and I have set up my phone like this for over a year now and it has been GREAT! That’s right, my “personal” cell phone is under the purview of my wife. And while 95 days out of 100 I can be trusted completely, freedom on those 5 weaker days is not worth my marriage. It is so much better for both of our hearts to take one avenue to sin and temptation off the table.

While I’m discussing apps, the following are the biggest “offender” apps that I would keep an eye out for. First, don’t allow your kids to use anything that keeps usage “private.” This could be a browser with private browsing capability (Here’s looking at you, Google Chrome and “incognito” mode), or anything where the content disappears (what’s crackin,’ SnapChat?). The teenage years lend themselves to secrecy anyway, so the last thing we need to do is give teens thousands of digital cubby holes to hide the most critical struggles they will face, be those pornography usage, body image and self-loathing, being bullied, cutting, or anything else that may be going on. One article I read recently called this the age of “ephemeral” social media, where things disappear almost immediately. These are not going to go away, so we need to figure out how to use them safely.

Second, I would steer clear of any app that allows kids to click on a link and browse. This will hit at some of the most popular apps but, again, the restrictions are worth our kids’ psychological, emotional and spiritual health. Twitter, Facebook, Google Search, Pinterest, etc., are all apps that allow users to click on a link and explore the internet without any monitoring (more on monitoring software below). This doesn’t mean they can’t be on Twitter, but it makes them go through their main browser, where you can see history. Apps like the ones listed are dangerous because, again, kids can surf and surf and surf, and no history is recorded. If there is a heart issue growing, no one finds out until it is way too late. Again, my wife and I have followed this for a couple of years. And yes, I am a grown adult. But my marriage is worth it to me. Maybe to you, Facebook and Twitter freedom is more important. You choose your priorities, I suppose.

2. No phones in bedrooms after a certain time.

Have a cut-off for phones in bedrooms. Have them charge in the kitchen overnight. This serves two functions: first of all, kids are most prone to get in trouble when they think they are least likely to get caught. For most, that’s when the parents are asleep. If you don’t believe me, spend some time thinking back to your adolescence. I rest my case.

The fact is that studies are flying out of research institutions telling us that kids are not getting enough sleep because of phones in their room. While most of this may not be problematic, it causes lower grades in school, more abrasive demeanor, and poor decision making. Plus, access to vice and lack of sleep are a deadly, deadly combination. Better to make a move that puts your kids heart at interest than choose to not rock the boat and enable a nightly porn habit.

3. Install Accountability Software

Firewalls and home filters are over my head, so I won’t be talking about those. But get some internet accountability on your kids’ devices, especially mobile devices. Accountability software will monitor all activity and report to a third-party accountability partner with any questionable sites. This could be the parents, a member of your church’s pastoral staff, or a godly mentor, but let it be someone. It is just a good safety net to have in place; while it might not fix the heart issue that causes temptation, it might be enough to deter temptation until it passes. If not, someone will know and can approach the topic.

On Android, the whole device can be monitored with one program, and I highly recommend X3Watch. There are various levels of accountability, but this is actually cross-platform, so your kid’s login will work on phone, tablet, or computer.

On the Apple side of things, it gets a little more hairy. Apple only allows developers to modify the code within their specific app. That means accountability software is not global (or monitoring all activity), but rather can only monitor one app. For this reason, x3watch, Covenant Eyes and others have web browsers available for iPhone, but in order for it to be effective, you MUST limit browsing in other apps (Settings > General >Restrictions > Turn off Safari and App Store Downloads, and choose a password to protect).

One word of caution: I would recommend parents be the accountability partners that receive their kids reports, but if you are, PLEASE handle “bad” reports with grace. Men—Dads—this means you. You know how hard this struggle is. Perhaps you are struggling with it yourself right now. Maybe these steps would be good first steps for you to take. Breach the topic head on, be direct, but please, please, please don’t shame and make them promise to not do it anymore. These are delicate situations and your young kids need to be guided to righteous living, not told to do better.

4. Follow Who They Follow

This is such a simple step. Be Facebook friends with your kids. Be their Twitter follower. Retweet when they say something funny (It will make their day)! Share their more poignant FB status updates and photos. Be their biggest fan. But more importantly, be aware of what that media looks like to them and how they are using it. Have conversations about “friending” strangers. Lead them to using social media as a tool, and leveraging it for good in their communities of friends.

5. Pray. Teach. Worship. Lead.

This is probably the most important one (although it shouldn’t be done in isolation of the others). Pray for your kids, for God to protect them from evil, for them to be wise, and to grow up to know him and his ways. Live a life that shows all that to them. Teach them about sexuality, appropriate internet usage, but most of all, teach them what it means to hunger for the Bread of Life, to thirst after the Living Water. Teach them what it is to be connected to the Vine, and to be one with God, glorifying him. He created us to worship him and bring him glory. We need to pray these things over our kids, regularly and passionately. They need to know what authentic faith looks like and be immediately alerted to anything that is counterfeit.

It’s been said that the U.S. Department of the Treasury never shows their counterfeit experts a fake bill. They diligently study the real thing. Day in. Day out. They don’t know counterfeiters’ techniques, or their methods. They just know the real thing. Finally, the day may come when a counterfeit needs to be identified and they don’t need to rely on studies of counterfeiters, because the forgers will always be out ahead of the officials. Rather, they can immediately identify the fake because they are so intimately familiar with the real thing.

As parents, it is our job to show them the real Christ, true Christianity that doesn’t “turn off” when we hit the parking lot on Sunday afternoon. Real discipleship, longing to hear what God has to say and bowing to his authority in our lives. Our households should be saturated in the true promises of our King so that when the deceiver brings his lies, we immediately recognize them for what they are: fake.

So those are five steps that parents can take TODAY to protect their kids. I hope this is a blessing.

Now let’s slay this beast!

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