A middle school choir concert isn’t the place you expect to talk about porn, but this mother was upset, and she didn’t know what to do.
She was showing her child’s smartphone to an aunt and to her child’s grandparents and was disgusted to find a porn app being suggested along side other games on the phone’s app store. So in the middle of an auditorium, before innocent looking kids took the stage, I showed a couple of rows of parents, who took avid interest, how to protect their kids online. Porn exposure has become a fact of life for kids, yet many parents feel inadequate in protecting and talking about porn and Internet safety with their kids.
They don’t know where to begin.
“It’s not that they are indifferent, they just need help, and they feel helpless,” said Bernie Leslie, an Internet Safety Consultant, who has talked to literally thousands of parents over her seven years at Covenant Eyes Internet Accountability and Filtering.
“Not knowing what to do, has caused them to do nothing,” she said.
What are our kids hiding?
According to a 2011 Microsoft Corporation study, 64% of parents do not use online parental controls or filtering software. Meanwhile the same study showed that 67% of teens have cleared their browser history and cache to hide their online activity from their parents, and 31% do this “always” or “regularly.”
“What they are hiding is going to be pretty important,” the middle school grandparent told the impromptu discussion of parents.
Technology is the air they breathe.
Parents face multiple hurdles in protecting their kids online and the biggest hurdles come from life itself. Parents juggle their jobs, their kids’ extracurricular activities and homework, along with the daily duties of life. Keeping up with Internet enabled devices and learning how to protect their kids often falls to the periphery.
Parents are not often aware of how much time their kids spend online, and they fail to recognize the prevalence of pornography and how it can impact their kids’ current and future lives and relationships. Meanwhile, Internet devices are ever more prevalent, traveling everywhere in pockets, watched in the backseats of cars, and introduced in potty seats for babies.
Internet safety is no longer an option.
These are among the reasons that St. John Bosco Academy in Cumming, Georgia, requires parents to attend an Internet safety seminar. Executive Director Julie Wilborn said that any parent who wants to send an electronic device to school with their child has to attend the Covenant Eyes DVD seminar called UNFILTERED: Equipping Parents for an Ongoing Conversation about Internet Pornography.
“We wanted our parents to see there is a tsunami coming at their kids,” Wilborn said. “Our parents have been super grateful, not only for learning themselves, but also that the parents of their children’s friends are receiving this information as well.”
Wilborn said she recommends Internet Accountability over filtering alone, because it creates an ongoing conversation between parents and their kids about Internet use. She has personally been able to have conversations with her own children that she would have missed without the benefits of Internet Accountability, including a gaming site that she believes became a short-lived addiction for her son.
“I was astonished at the amount of time he was spending on this website,” she said. “If I had not gotten a report, I would never have known.”
Internet Accountability is no longer an option.
Internet Accountability is a radical new thought for many parents because in the past, protecting your kids had been about blocking filters, said Ryan Foley, associate vice president for Covenant Eyes. He travels the country speaking to audiences of leaders and parents, and has found many parents have false impressions. Parents miss protecting their kids online because they think they have these issues under control simply by checking Internet history occasionally. Sometimes parents falsely believe their son or daughter is too young to be exposed to porn or to even search for porn, and they may feel uncomfortable or avoid talking with their kids about pornography.
“I think the vast majority of parents really care, but they live with these false premises,” Foley said.
Unfortunately, many parents are discovering their child’s porn exposure after months or even years of viewing. Leslie recalls a recent call with a grandparent, whose grandchild was on probation after possessing child pornography. Instead of a parent, his Accountability Partner was his probation officer, and if the boy slipped up on any pornographic site, he would be required to go to a juvenile detention center.
Thankfully, these types of conversations are rare for Leslie. A mother herself, Leslie says she has a strong feeling of purpose to help parents.
“When I answer the phone with my name, I always say, ‘I can definitely help you use the Internet safely,’ and often the response is ‘I really hope you can,’” Leslie said. “I commonly hear parents say, ‘I’m not very tech savvy.’ They don’t know how to deal with the devices themselves let alone the issue of pornography.”
Leslie says parents are most pleased when they hear:
- Covenant Eyes works on multiple devices, including Mac and Windows computers, Android phones and tablets (including Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD) iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch.
- Covenant Eyes can be installed on all of these devices at no extra cost.
- Covenant Eyes provides a library of ebooks, videos, and articles to help parents protect their families.
“They feel empowered and relieved,” Leslie said.
After receiving personal advice from Leslie, she often provides specific and free resources from Covenant Eyes. Here are some of her top picks:
- When Your Child Is Looking at Porn is a step-by-step written guide for parents to get the conversation started.
- Learn how to lock down your Android phones and tablets, computers, and iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch .
- Watch this Introduction Video to get an overview of how Covenant Eyes works, as well as the steps to get the most out of your account.
- If you haven’t already, subscribe to Pure Minds Online, a free monthly e-magazine that explores online trends, gives tips on using the Internet safely, and reveals the issues facing families and individuals today.