Not too long ago, I spoke with a friend of mine who recently started using Covenant Eyes to protect his teenage sons, one of whom had been struggling with pornography. “It’s going well,” he said. “I’ve got it set up so that we’re receiving each other’s reports. I’ll tell you, though, what’s really been helping my son is the Filter.”
Still, statements like that often make me grimace inwardly. As much help as filters can be, they don’t impact choices, motivations, or relationships in the same way as accountability.
1. Filtering is about authority. Accountability is about relationships.
In general, there are two primary users for filtering: kids, and adults who are trying to break porn habits. (There are exceptions, of course, but these tend to be the big ones.) Filtering is an important tool for both of them. After all, no five-year-old is equipped to handle porn—developmentally, emotionally, or spiritually. And letting a recovering porn user use the Internet without protection is like handing a recovering alcoholic $100 and dropping them off at a bar or liquor store for a few hours. Obviously, filters have their place.
The problem is, too many people think of filtering as a set-it-and-forget-it option. Parents think of it as a substitute for teaching values. The family and friends of porn users appreciate the peace of mind, but don’t talk about what was going on in their lives to lead them to porn in the first place.
Internet Accountability Reports, on the other hand, are designed with the relationship in mind. They’re intended to be used in conversation, and their value is greatly diminished when that conversation doesn’t happen. For a parent talking to their child, it turns Internet use from a one-way “Don’t go there because I said so” lecture to a two-way “This is why this site was a poor choice” discussion. For adult users, it can be even more beneficial, as the conversation evolves from the basic question of where the person went online to a deeper friendship, addressing heart issues.
This leads to the next point…
2. Filters address behaviors. Accountability addresses the heart.
Growing up, my family had a rather vicious dog who stayed chained up in the yard much of the time. You could tell where her chain ended by the circle-shaped wear and tear of the grass. One time, some deer came into our back yard while the dog was in the house. Somehow she managed to get out…and even though she wasn’t chained, she ran as far as the edge of her circle, stopped, and stood there, barking. This was a very good thing; she was conditioned to know her limits, and she wasn’t a smart enough dog to test them, and therefore she didn’t escape to bite a neighborhood kid.
Filtering offers a similar sort of behavioral conditioning. If you use a filter long enough, theoretically you’ll eventually be conditioned to not bother trying to go to those websites, since you just get a blocked page.
To the extent that it works, this is a good thing. However, people are not dogs. Instead, we’re more like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park, systematically testing our boundaries for weaknesses. In fact, one report found that 18% of 12 to 15-year-olds know how to disable filters. Filters merely make it more difficult to access porn without taking away the desire to view it.
If filtering is equivalent to putting a chain on a vicious dog, then accountability is training a dog so well that it doesn’t need a leash. Think of a highly disciplined sheepdog. Any desire to stray from its masters side has been long-since trained out of it. In fact, a leash would hinder it from performing its duty of protecting the flock. Its heart has been tamed and trained.
That’s the goal of accountability. It’s not merely a chain or a behavior modification system. When people talk about how they use (and misuse) the Internet, it provides the opportunity to not just punish the behavior, but to actually talk through the motiviations for it. Were they visiting a particular website that triggered a porn binge? Was there some stressor at work or in a relationship? By knowing the heart’s reasons, it becomes possible to address them, and through that, reduce the desire to stray.
3. Filtering is a closed door. Accountability is an open one.
This leads to the last point, which in some ways is the most obvious. One of the fundamental limitations of a filter is that it is, in fact, a filter. More precisely, it blocks certain websites automatically, based on whether or not it deems the content to be appropriate.
Again, and I can’t emphasize this enough, this is a good thing. It’s doing what it’s supposed to in preventing access to inappropriate content. But filters can block content overzealously, especially when set to the wrong level. It’s an impartial tool, a blind censor, and it strips away your power to choose between wise and foolish decisions.
Accountability brings attention to the choice of Internet use. Of course, there are countless psychological factors influencing the decision. Secrecy and brain chemistry make it harder to resist clicking on pornographic links, for example. And knowing your activity is being watched via Accountability software has its own psychological benefit—it makes it easier to resist temptations online.
Even so, it is in the act of making decisions (even seemingly simple ones online) that character is revealed and developed. Making wise choices when you know you are monitored empowers you to make wise choices when you are in a situation where you are not monitored.
An Aside: Regarding Covenant Eyes
Here’s the bottom line. Filtering is good. Accountability is better.
And for many people, especially children, using accountability and filtering together is best of all. It’s the peace of mind of both blocking bad content and having good discussions about what the person actually does online. What are you waiting for? Sign up for Covenant Eyes today.