by Emily Malone
Have you ever gone on a diet and wished you had simply maintained your weight instead of allowing it to climb steadily higher over the years? What could have been managed with a little more discipline and self-control has seemed to sky rocket out of control.
Unfortunately, many habits have the same tendencies. These habits outgrow their seams (but not metaphorically), and sadly they become much more sinister. Over time, these bad habits become part of who we are and what we value.
If that frightens you, you are not alone. I have seen far too many of my own bad habits fester until they are full-out sins and practically part of the very fabric of my being. This is not the time for me to lay out my sins (praise the Lord!), but rather a time to share how our family is strategically purposing to prevent online sin, starting with us and trickling down to our children.
I am a huge believer in God’s grace and His forgiveness for past sin, but in this case, rather than wait until one of us stumbles, why not prevent bad Internet habits by fostering good ones? Unlike a diet, this kind of plan does not rely on self-control and discipline. On the contrary, by the grace of God through Jesus Christ and the power of His Spirit (yes, I’m invoking the entire Trinity), we are prayerfully thinking through how to safeguard our computers, and therefore our family.
That may seem like a dramatic statement, but too many marriages and families have been ravaged by the effects of easily accessible and private online pornography.
Pornography: We Are All Susceptible
First, a little about us. My husband, Josh, is currently a PhD student of Systematic Theology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. He has been a pastor at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, TX, and a pastor of young adults at Parkview Church in Iowa City, IA, and an electrical engineer for five years. I have taught Spanish at a private high school in Dallas.
From within the walls of an engineering office to the sanctity of a church to the hallways of a high school, we have learned firsthand that pornography has no age limit or gender bias. Boys and girls, men and women, young and old…they are all susceptible to online impurity if they do not have the right precautions set up.
While I think most people can resonate with wanting to protect their spouse’s (not to mention themselves) from online sin, most might scratch their heads at taking precautions for a toddler and a preschooler. Our children, Rebekah (age 4) and Luke (age 2), are simply too precious for us to assume that all will go well if they attend church and say their prayers. Instead, we believe that by talking about online issues and the consequences of poor choices, no matter how innocent they begin, we can foster good habits and therefore honor Christ in our homes. Again, why not start now, before inappropriate relationships and images tear us apart?
Setting Up Online Precautions
We recently watched a popular sitcom that had a married couple at (humorous) odds with one another over the husband’s Facebook contact with an ex-girlfriend. In fact, he was going to meet her for drinks “just to catch up.” Even though we laughed at the outcome, Josh and I were astounded at the lack of precautions taken in this particular marriage. Just opening yourself up to such an online relationship opens the door for real-life problems, not the least of which is dissatisfaction with your own spouse.
Closer to home for us, I had to sign whether or not my 4-year-old could go online at the library just to get her a public library card. All I wanted to do was check out Dora the Explorer in her name (and therefore avoid any subsequent late fees), and I found myself making a monumental parenting decision. That was the first time it hit me that my 2- and 4-year-olds would not be 2 and 4 forever.
The habits we make at home will help shape the people they will become. That meant several things to us: (1) We had to make sure we were above reproach in our own online pursuits; (2) we had to be proactive in setting up a Christ-honoring atmosphere for our children.
- Instead of just monitoring my husband’s or children’s online activity, we decided to have ongoing, open conversations about how we spend our time. This was most easily facilitated by installing Covenant Eyes on both our laptops.
- Next, we limit where the computers are in the house. No one, including ourselves, can have a computer outside the living room, which is a nice accountability feature in and of itself.
- Along those lines, our children will probably not have their own computers when they get older. Either way, they’ll use computers with our supervision.
- Our children are to follow the same guidelines outside our home as well, and we intend to talk with their friends’ parents about our expectations. If we cannot count on that family to honor our requests, then their child can spend time at our house instead.
- We love the idea of the filtering feature of the Covenant Eyes software that limits certain questionable sites.
- For further precaution, Josh and I do not befriend former “flames” on social networking sites, and we generally avoid one-on-one contact with the opposite sex. We often copy each other on e-mails or messages just to ensure we don’t give the wrong impression.
Some of those points may seem hard-nosed and even downright prudish. I probably would have sneered at a few of them myself…before I was a teacher and friend of people who fell prey to pornography. I finally wised up and realized that none of us is above online sin.
Sure, we may be sacrificing a certain amount of privacy and our personal rights, but isn’t that part of being a believer? And isn’t our marriage worth it? Finally, aren’t our children worth the conflict such boundaries might bring?
. . . .
Emily Malone is the mother of two and the wife of a graduate student. She has worked from her UK home as an online curriculum writer and now is a virtual assistant for Speech Privacy Systems and Ergonomics Made Easy. Emily and her husband are trying to think through how to best adorn the gospel of Christ so that their children walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.
What do you do with smartphones? Internet-enabled devices are now pocket sized. A real issue for teens and pre-teens. Would you consider banning phones from your kids’ bedrooms when they’re older?
@Nick – It is an age-sensitive issue and a matter of trust. Just as I wouldn’t want a computer in my kid’s bedroom, I wouldn’t want him to have a smartphone with full Internet access in his bedroom either. That being said, our accountability service for the iPhone can be a great help to parents who want to monitor where their kids go, what they see, and what they do. As with most things in parenting, it takes wisdom to know how to balance boundaries and freedom.
I’m with you on that. We have a rule that no one in our family has electronic stuff upstairs. I raised the point mainly because I’m concerned that we can “forget” about smartphones when we’re thinking about online safety.
I’d like to hear more about accountability for iPhones, Android phones etc. Any pointers?
@Nick – Right now we don’t have anything for the Android (that is forthcoming), but our app for the iPhone is being used by many people. It doesn’t block anything. It is a browser (that replaces Safari) and monitors all of your Internet use and summarizes everything into an easy-tor-read report. Every Web address is “rated” for inappropriate content (using age-based ratings). The report is e-mailed to whomever you want every three days, every week, or every other week (depending on what you want). This keep a person honest about where they go and what they see online, curbing Internet temptations and opening up good discussions about how the Internet is being used.
Hello Nick. Just a quick notice: We have made some upgrades to our iPhone app today. Check out version version 1.4.6 in the app store.
Hello everyone. I’m proud to announce the Covenant Eyes app for Android is no longer in beta and can be found on Google Play. Thanks to all our beta-testers for helping us make this app!