Why “Don’t Look” won’t be enough
I am the mother of three sons and one daughter. My kids are young still, but my firstborn is now within a couple years of the average first age of exposure to pornography. Which means that kids as young as him have seen it, have stumbled upon in accidentally, have been intentionally exposed by an older sibling or cousin or neighbor kid, and are already struggling with feelings of confusion, excitement, shame, fear, and curiosity.
In this digital age, it is all but inevitable that my children will encounter pornography at some point during their childhood. And that breaks my heart.
But I can’t stick my head in the sand and just try not to worry about it, hoping that if I don’t mention it and if we’re careful enough at home and vigilant enough with our network filtering software (which is important!) and discriminating enough about our media consumption (also essential!) and picky enough about how we do playdates (SO huge. You have no idea what your neighbor might be watching late at night, and what might pop up on their son’s tablet during an innocent Youtube search for rocket launches or scenes from Team Hotwheels), we’ll be fine.
That isn’t enough. In other words, I have to equip myself as a mother to help my children navigate the murky waters of the digital world, so awash in pornography and violent, addictive content, and I have to equip my children to face this brave new world.
I can’t leave it up to chance. This one is too big, and the stakes are too high.
While both men and women struggle with pornography in increasing numbers, boys are particularly vulnerable in the era of a smartphone-in-every-pocket. Men are wired for visual stimulation. It’s beautiful and essential and intrinsically masculine, and it is a component of their intentional design that I wouldn’t change even if I could. But there is a multi-billion dollar market built around exploiting that facet of their nature and ensnaring young minds and hearts in a dark web of profitable addiction that is predicated on increasing levels of violence, misogyny, and dehumanization.
And it’s profitable as all hell, make no mistake about that. For every media soundbite or expert opinion that “a little porn is harmless,” or “pornography is a natural competent of a healthy relationship,” a rich pornographer who makes his or her living off of pimping out young women and children is laughing all the way to the bank.
(Porn kills love. For a totally secular perspective and a fantastic resource, check out “Fight the New Drug” and the great work they’re doing, especially with adolescents and college aged kids.)
I wrote a series on “porn proofing our kids” a while back, and afterwards a rep from Covenant Eyes: CMG Connect reached out to me about a new resource designed to empower parents to proactively engage with their kids on the topic of porn, and to help them build a safe, open, communicative family; a “safe haven.”
CMG Connect Parents is full of good video content, articles, and other resources for parents who are in all stages with kids of all ages.
Whether your family is already wrestling with this issue, you’re unsure of where to start (or whether your kids have been exposed yet) of if you’re like us and have young children and are looking down the pike to the future and wondering where to begin, this is a good place to start.
They are also offering a free 30 day trial of their acclaimed “Covenant Eyes” filtering program, a multidimensional resource that filters harmful content, alerts parents to potential problems, and can provide individual accountability and monitoring for help in overcoming an existing addiction. We’ve been hemming and hawing over which filtering software or device to use and when we need to make the leap, but after my husband spent 3 days last spring attending a conference for work, he walked away from the sessions on trafficking and addiction absolutely convicted that the time is now.
Even if your kids are little and aren’t using the internet on their own yet, now is the time to install those guardrails and establish a culture of safe and responsible media use. Not only are you protecting against accidental exposure (and I’ve seen some freaky stuff pop up totally unrelated on Youtube), but you’re also protecting the babysitters or other caregivers who come into your home and may connect to your network, along with houseguests and visitors who may access your WiFi (and in turn, you are protecting your network (hellooooo, targeted ads) against harmful content other people may access via your network without your knowledge. So many people are fighting a great battle, and you truly never know.)
Really, I can’t think of a reason to have unfiltered internet, period.
So do me a favor and start the 30 day trial, will you? And start clicking through some of the video content on CMG Connect. My favorite video is the one featuring two moms, with one mom walking the other through happening upon a probable pornography problem with her 14 year old son. It’s full of common sense, compassion, and a destigmatization of the problem, and it contains some tangible resources and a sort of guide map of what that journey look like for one family.
And of course, above all, we take our cue from Padre Pio: we pray, we hope, and we don’t worry. We don’t wallow in the “what ifs” or the regrets, and don’t anticipate the future with terror. Being proactive, wise, and confidant is a far cry from cowering and fearful. With common sense, open communication, and a helpful toolbox, our kids don’t have to become statistics in an adolescence behavioral journal.
I hope you’ll check it out.
(Thanks to Covenant Eyes whom I partnered with on this post for the industry-leading work they’re doing to empower families to stay safe and healthy. All opinions expressed are my own.)
Hi Jenny, great article and resource! I’m curious on how you monitor your playdates. Do you have a conversation with the mom/family beforehand re: media usage or are you just still attending with the kiddos? We have three (still young!) kids and we haven’t had to deal with sleepovers or even unattended playdates but just curious for the fast approaching future!
Brittney, so far we’ve been super cautious about playdates, and the only times we’ve left our kids have been with trusted family members or with friends we know well and who share our values. We’ve discussed network filtering, screen time rules, and stuff like that with these friends (they’re members of our faith community) so we know that in their homes, as best as you can “guarantee” anything, our kids will be safe. We also have our kids in a low/no technology Classical Montessori school, which helps with the problem of smartphones and tablets in the lunchroom and in carpool line. It’s not about paranoia for us, but about proactive, realistic acknowledgement of what is going on in the lives of far too many kids.
We’re planning to have the potentially awkward “do you guys have a network filter/blocking device for your kid’s tablets/phones?” with our new neighbors soon, because our kids play together in the backyards, and I’ve had to remind the older kids every time the tablet comes out that our crew are younger, and can only look at a screen that their mom or dad (or grandma or babysitter, etc.) has turned on for them”
I think we cannot be too proactive. I’m not a parent, but my husband and I have already discussed this for future children, if God should allow us to become parents. I do take issue with this statement of yours: “While both men and women struggle with pornography in increasing numbers, boys are particularly vulnerable in the era of a smartphone-in-every-pocket. Men are wired for visual stimulation.” This is a societal problem, not just a male problem. Not to mention that most people nowdays consider themselves “visual learners.” It is just as tempting and addicting for women, and there is the added stigma of this being “a men’s problem.” Women/girls need to be taught boundaries and what is and is not appropriate for being solicited and being asked for pics by peers or adults. Many kids will try out/abuse their friends/siblings, etc. because of what they’ve learned online. Maybe because I was not raised Catholic and maybe because I was basically a heathen for all of my 20’s, and maybe because I have experienced sexual harassment personally, the time for mourning what our culture has become and for lamenting that we have to do this with our children is a waste of precious time. We need to act. This is the sad reality.
100 percent agree that it is a societal problem, and again, both sexes are vulnerable to porn, but as the mom of 3 boys I can assure you that males are wired differently from females. Does this mean all boys will struggle with porn and all girls are immune? No way. But there is a particular need to help boys understand what it means to keep custody of their eyes, and for girls to keep custody of their hearts. Many girls who become victims of online trafficking, harassment, and sexual blackmailing are coerced into sharing pornographic images of themselves because they are looking for love, for relationship. So yeah, the problem is ABSOLUTELY everyone’s problem, but there are qualities more specific to each gender, and it’s okay (and necessary) to acknowledge them.
I’ll add my vote to boys being wired differently than girls. 32 years ago when our son was about 10 years old he came home after school with some odd staining on his palms. He tried to wash it off but to no avail and tried to hide his hands from me. Upon closer inspection imprinted upon his palms like unholy stigmata were the images of naked breasts. It turned out that he and a couple of friends had seen a school custodian throw magazines into the garbage can and they’d retrieved them. Discovering they were “naked lady pictures” they sat together poring over the pages in the snow, wiping the accumulating flakes away with their hands. Unfortunately (or Godincedentally) the ink transferred and he was left with proof of his entertainment. He and his friends had a sense this was not an appropriate after school activity and while our daughter was puzzled as to why he’d have been interested in the first place there was no doubt as to the fact he and his friends were mesmerized. A lot of discussion followed together with a call to the school principal to follow up. So, concern about children and boys in particular, and porn is nothing new but porn sure is more in their faces than it was decades ago.
I just had a letter sent to me recently to petition Disney to have them enforce their own copyrights against infringement by porn sites that use the Disney characters to lure. Sick. Apparently it is a HUGE problem. Disney does nothing. Well, Disney hasn’t been “safe” in quite a lot of years.
Dangers opening the door to porn lurk around in hidden places other than just stumbling onto internet sites. Ultimately one must form a pure heart in their children. Cultivation of the virtue of Chastity is important. Carefully read CCC 2337-2347.
Always be vigilant and always do the right thing, even when you “think” you know people. I recently had to kick a parent out from volunteering for my girl scout troop. We have known each other for several years and both husband & wife are “leaders” in our community. It came to our attention they were posting porn video clips on their Facebook page. When confronted and told volunteering with the kids is off the table, the wife backlashed that the videos were (and I QUOTE) “not that bad.” God help us.
I read an article this morning called “A Family-Friendly Guide to Sex Education” by Leila Marie Lawler. It gave some good points to consider on this subject of raising children in our culture and how to approach different issues and situations. It reminded me of your post here, so I thought you might like to check it out:
For a “first line of defense” in our home, we use OpenDNS family shield. This is a free set of configurations that you apply to your router that restrict which websites can be accessed by ANY devices on that network (WIFI or wired). This, at least, provides a defense on our cable / DSL connection and easily covers every device in our house including our guests’ devices.