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"4 Things I wish Parents Understood
about Protecting their Children from Pornography"

As societies across the globe become more and more accepting of immorality, it can sometimes feel like protecting our families from the onslaught of pornography is an insurmountable task. What can we do to stem the tide? As a parent, I worry about the risk that my own children will be exposed to pornography in spite of my efforts to protect them.  I applaud youth and adults everywhere who resist the pull of pornography and find the strength to say “No!” when pornography knocks at their door, or worse yet, when it barges into their lives totally uninvited.

I am confident that as we take extraordinary steps to protect our families from pornography, our children—and their future spouses—will one day thank us for keeping them safe during an extremely impressionable period of their lives.

Here are 4 things I wish parents understood about their responsibility to protect their children from the plague of pornography:

1.    Home computers are no longer the main source of pornography for youth or children.

In my parent’s generation, pornography was something generally accessible only in magazine shops and adult movie stores located far away from the areas in which they lived. Later, the internet allowed pornography into our homes through the family computer. Parents have been repeatedly warned about keeping their family computers in open places and using effective filtering software on home computers. That wise counsel still applies today. Parents who are not using parental controls or filtering software on their home computers and laptops are unwisely putting their children at risk.

Today, parents need to realize that with the proliferation of personal mobile devices (e.g., smart phones, tablets, iPods), these mobile devices have become ground zero in the fight against pornography. For one thing, those who are trapped by pornography usually feel they can more easily conceal their online behavior if they use a personal mobile device to access it. Further, because these devices are small and personal and mobile, the act of reading or viewing inappropriate content is easier to hide. Mobile devices can be fun and useful, but it is critical that parents understand what it takes to make mobile devices as safe as possible against pornography (see #3 below)

2.    Social media apps are the great Trojan Horse in the battle against pornography.

Social media platforms (e.g., Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook) have become some of the most popular uses of the internet because they help us stay connected with friends and family in ways that are fun and meaningful. For mobile devices, social media apps are especially popular. However, parents must understand that social media apps are also a Trojan Horse in the battle against pornography because they provide a virtually unlimited source of pornography to our children’s devices. An otherwise secure mobile device that does not have access to an unfiltered web browser or other unsafe apps can still be a danger to our children unless we take important precautions regarding how they use Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and other social media apps.

Most of these social media platforms officially claim to limit or block pornography, but the reality is they are unable and unwilling to monitor the enormous volume of content on their sites. The dangers for kids include that some well-known celebrities post profane and\or pornographic content on their social media profiles; these types of posts often appear in lists of the most popular posts of the day, which our kids can easily stumble onto. Other users deliberately make pornographic images easily searchable by including vulgar or pornographic hashtags with their postings of pornographic images and video clips. With just a few simple searches on social media apps, what was supposed to be a fun and innocent way of connecting with friends and family can become a clear and present danger to our kids. What is the solution? I don’t think removing all social media apps from our children’s devices is the answer; but I believe monitoring our children's social media usage and putting in place thoughtful limits are essential steps, as I explain below.

3.    “Second only to your love, they need your limits.”

There may be no area of their lives where our children need our limits more than in establishing safe and appropriate boundaries with respect to social media and media generally.

Placing limits on our children is not related to a lack of trust in them. Instead, we are recognizing that limits can actually bless them and keep them safe. Some parents may ask, “If I have taught my children about the evils of pornography and the importance of true love and chastity, isn’t that enough to keep them safe?” My response is that unfortunately, it is usually not enough. Teaching moral doctrine is critical and essential, but even the strongest youth in solid Christian homes need to have the practical limits in place.

Here are a few fundamental limits I suggest for keeping your children safe:

  • Require children, including older teenage children, to turn in their mobile devices to parents nightly. Becoming tired late at night can impair anyone’s judgment—our kids are certainly no exception. Leaving them alone with their mobile devices during the night is a big mistake.

  • Set a password that only parents know for built-in parental controls on mobile devices. Use these parental controls to restrict songs and books with explicit content and to set limits based on the ratings of apps, movies, and TV shows. I also strongly suggest you disable access to the (unfiltered) web browser that comes with iOS (i.e., Safari) or Android (i.e., Chrome) devices. Given the risks and temptations associated with mobile devices, a filtered internet browser (examples include Mobicip, K9, and others) is safer than the native browser app that comes installed on mobile devices.

    Using a filtered browser is often less convenient, but it is worth removing this source of unfiltered access to the internet on your child’s mobile device. Lastly, I suggest you use parental controls to disable access to the App Store or Google Play to prevent your child from wasting time perusing the App Store, where they will sometimes encounter inappropriate content and where other (unfiltered) web browsers could be downloaded or installed on their devices. If your children occasionally want to update their apps or download a new app, parents can help them do so."

  • Use other apps to put limits in place. For example, Our Pact is a free iOS and Android app that links parents’ devices to their children’s mobile devices and then allows parents to turn off all non-native iPhone or Android apps during certain time intervals or at any given moment. In our home, we use Our Pact to turn off the apps on our children’s mobile devices during certain times of day and at night, or until they have finished their other responsibilities around the house. It is common for our kids to ask, “Dad, will you please turn my apps back on?” after they have finished homework or another task. These types of apps allow us to put practical limits on the access our children have to their mobile devices.

  • Use hardware to help you in the fight against pornography. There are many hardware products you can buy to help filter internet content on your home Wi-Fi network.    Some of these products act as your home’s router; others interface wirelessly with your router.  Both types of hardware function as a filter and a monitoring tool.

    One solution that has worked very effectively in my family is called Circle©, which is now owned by Disney (www.meetcircle.com). I read about Circle in The Wall Street Journal several months ago and decided to give it a try. The price is $99. Circle is not a router; it is a hardware device that connects to your existing router and functions as a filter and a monitoring tool. Circle allows you to assign every device in your house that accesses the Wi-Fi network (e.g., desktop computers, laptops, iPods, iPads, iPhones) to a specific user profile for which you can set time limits and content limits. In our home, our children’s iPods or other devices are assigned to their profile; and my wife and I also have profiles for our computers and mobile devices.

  • For any given profile, for example, you can completely block or limit access to social media apps for Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and others. Limiting the amount of time per day that children can access social media apps will protect them.

    Circle also blocks ads, adult content, and other inappropriate content, and it can be set to force safe searches on search engines and on YouTube. In addition, Circle logs a continuous history of each user’s actions across all devices on his\her profile, which makes it easy for parents to review their children’s online activities regularly.  Although Circle currently works only when your family’s devices are connected to your home Wi-Fi network, the company will be releasing a new service to extend functionality to all your family’s devices regardless of what network they are connected to, including LTE networks.

    The key is to be very up front and tell your children that you will be using Circle (or other hardware) to monitor what they do online; that discussion alone prevents most issues that would ever come up.

4.    Leaving the door of conversation wide open will make all the difference for your child.

If you haven’t discussed pornography with your children who are old enough to understand it, you need to have that talk now.  Above all, it is critical to let your kids know that they can come talk with you any time they feel they have concerns about pornography. Your children need to know they will not be condemned or criticized or punished if they approach you about being exposed to pornography. If they are intimidated or afraid of talking with you, they will not come to you when they need help. Open the door and welcome the conversation when it’s needed.

Do not get angry with your children if they confess challenges or struggles with pornography. Praise them for being willing to talk with you. Then use the opportunity to teach and set additional limits. Encourage children and teens who are struggling to seek help from a religious leader or a professional counselor. Check in regularly with your children and give them opportunities to discuss how things are going or any concerns they have regarding pornography. As the communication lines remain open, you will have the power to influence your children and steer them away from the harmful dangers of pornography.    (Source:  4 Things I Wish Parents Understood about Protecting Their Children from Pornography, by Nate Sharp, associate professor in the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University)

  • Prevention is best.  Parents must set the example.  If they use porn, their children will find it.  
  • Remember—Girls as well as boys are getting involved in pornography.  
  • It appears that the higher your child’s IQ, the more quickly he can become addicted, according to studies.  
  • Maintain a good relationship with your children and teens so you can openly discuss with them their concerns and questions.  Make time to have an emotional, verbal and physical (hugs) closeness with each child.  Youth will be influenced by those people they have loving relationships with.  
  • There is much to lose.  Teach children/teens that pornography, like many addictions, may feel good initially; but they have much to lose if they get involved with any addiction.  
  • Teach children a plan of action.  Role play with them so they will know how to respond to a bad picture, joke, or an offensive person.  
  • Ask your children what they are learning and hearing in school.  
  • Review all of the books your children are required to read in school for objectionable sexual content, and talk to them about it.  
  • Sexual abuse is often an outgrowth of pornography.  Explain good and bad touches.  Teach your children that the parts of their body covered by a swim suit are private.  Teach your daughters to dress modestly, because boys are very visual. 

    "Boys' brains are being digitally rewired for change, novelty, excitement and constant arousal."  (Dr. Philip Zimbardo, psychologist and professor emeritus at Stanford University)
  • Teach children that sexual advances from adults or older children are against the law.  This will give your children the confidence to assert themselves and speak up when they feel upset, scared, or uneasy with anyone’s behavior.  
  • Learn to really listen when children talk.  
  • Teach children to tell a parent or guardian if anything on their devices or in the company of another person makes them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused, and to run to a populated area.  Explain that you can only help if they share with you.  Warn that others may even threaten them if they tell—but to tell anyway.  
  • Teach children to turn off their devices immediately if something appears on the computer screen that is inappropriate; otherwise as they try to click off that page, often more sexual images will appear.  Then, as stated above, tell the teacher and you as a parent.
  • Report abuse to law enforcement, and get professional help.  Remember, if one child has been abused, it is likely others have also.   
  • Help children choose good friends.  Sexual behavior is determined by values, not by mere knowledge.  
  • Teach your daughters not to date guys who use porn, and to ask them if they do. The boy who does will have a deep lack of respect for himself and for women.  No woman will ever be enough for him.  His porn will always be more important to him than you.  
  • Discourage secrets and secret friends, including internet friends.  Instruct children to ask a parent before sharing personal information with anyone, including friends their own age.  The risks they face are very dangerous, and information put out in cyberspace is there forever.    
  • Know your children’s online friends, and instruct children not to meet in-person with anyone they have met online.  Adult predators are aggressively trying to gather personal information.  On the Web, you never know who you are talking to in chat rooms, blogs, instant messaging, bulletin boards, and sites like MySpace.    Ask your children to stay out of chat rooms, where girls become emotionally involved with strangers.  Teach them that many people lie about their ages, motives, and other personal information. 

Home Rules   
  • Know where your children are, and who is supervising them.  Even if children do not have the internet and pornography at home, they can easily access it at a friend’s house or the library.  
  • Establish dating guidelines, such as age, curfew, grouping-dating, a cell phone to keep in touch, and instructions to call home if they need to be picked up.  
  • Establish family media rules which also apply to the parents.   Keep inappropriate material out of your home--offensive magazines, music, movies, TV programs, video games.  Advertising today is defining the human connection almost entirely in terms of sex.  This overemphasizes the relative importance of sex in our lives and un-emphasizes other important things such as friendship, loyalty, fun, children, family, and community.  Many misguided advertisers use sex to sell everything from cars to candy—because, it is all about money.   
  • Establish safe TV and movie guidelines for your family.    Do not trust the rating system.  Most of the television programs, especially the sitcoms, are full of sexual content.  Use content blocking to control what children view on TV, and limit TV time.
  • Avoid sleepovers, where many youth experience pornography, drugs and alcohol for the first time.  Also this is a key location where inappropriate touching takes place.

Mobile Devices and Computers
  • Place all computers in an open, supervised area of your home, and establish time restrictions.  (Based on the high rate of wasted time viewing porn at work, computer screens at work should also be visible to others.)  
  • Do not allow children to use their mobile devices and computers in their bedrooms.  “Any good boy or girl who has the Internet in his/her bedroom will fall.”  (Impact America Conference)
  • CD’s.  Check every disc that comes into your home, for pornography. 
  • Chat Rooms.  Do not allow your children to use chat rooms—they can talk to friends on a restricted “buddy list” using instant messaging.  One in 5 teens has been sexually solicited while online, and 89% of children who have been solicited say it occurred while in a chat room.  
  • Learn about your devices so you can see what sites have been visited.  Parents can back-click to check the screen or scan the stored log of Web sites on a search engine to see where their children have been.  
  • Install a filter on your Internet.  
  • Online Strangers.   Teach children to “crash and tell”—turn off the computer or other device immediately, and tell a parent or teacher when they accidentally pull up a porn site, or receive any messages that make them feel uncomfortable.  Teach them they will feel guilt, but it is important to tell.  Explain that they will not be in trouble for being honest with you.   
  • Teach your children to never agree to meet anyone they meet online, and never give out personal information (age, gender, address or school they attend). 

What You Can Do
  • Every child who has any access to the internet and digital world can be taught about the dangers of pornography in a simple way they can understand.  Parents and grandparents can teach very young children to recognize pornography, how to respond, and how to help a child forget bad pictures.  Read Good Pictures, Bad Pictures, Jr. - a Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds, by Kristen A. Jenson, MA. 

    By age 6 or 7, read your child the book Good Pictures Bad Pictures:  Porn-Proofing Today's Young Kids, by Kristen A. Jenson, MA and Gail Poyner, PhD.  Children will learn 5 powerful lessons:
  1. How to recognize pornography by the way it makes them feel.
  2. How looking at pornography can become a real addiction, like drugs or alcohol.
  3. How to keep their thinking brain in charge of their feeling brain to stay safe.
  4. How to keep their attraction center from being tricked by pornography.
  5. How to use the CAN DO Plan to effectively reject every exposure to pornography.
Additional Resources
  • Some parents rely heavily on OpenDNS, a free wifi filtering service — it redirects all internet activity on your wifi signal to a different Domain Naming Service (DNS) that can be filtered based on your preferences. It works through your router. It filters everything from gaming, gambling, pornography, and lingerie sites to cheating, dating, video sharing, social media, etc.  It has robust options to customize to each family’s preferences. It is a baseline tool, and every family needs some sort of filtering support. It also disables the capabilities of browsers to support “private browsing,” if you select that option. You can see every website that is visited from any device that is using that signal. It is a free service.

  • There are quite a lot of new tools for monitoring teen activity, but almost all of them have workarounds or drawbacks.  Some families do not allow their children to have internet enabled phones, which are too much of a temptation, because there are too many workarounds that other youth will describe and detail.