Last week I got an e-mail from a concerned mom with a 15-year-old daughter. She was frustrated because of Internet related battles at home. Over the years there has been a lot of back and forth over Internet rules. Should she let her daughter own this device or that device? Should she filter the Internet? Monitor it? Both? How strict should the filtering be? Should she let her daughter get that app? Her daughter was overwhelmed by the constant changes and restrictions.
Then last week she found out about some of the ways her daughter was using the Internet socially. The daughter was chatting over Tumblr in ways that really upset her mom: cuss words, joking about inappropriate topics, etc. The daughter was also chatting over Skype with friends she met playing Minecraft. Mom was again “on a mission” (her words), blocking Tumblr and Skype from being used. This led to her daughter getting very emotional because this kind of stuff is just “normal” for people her age. Her mom is just “not used to this generation,” she said.
When this mom contacted me she said she feels like Internet filtering is like chemotherapy: for all the bad it eradicates, it also eradicates a lot of good. She wanted to know my thoughts.
Here’s what I wrote to her:
Hi [Frustrated Mom],
Thanks for your e-mail.
First, it is great that you are taking an interest in the online life of your daughter. A lot of parents today are very “hands-off” about it, and this is a recipe for disaster.
Second, a lot of how this shakes out between you and your daughter will be a matter of attitude. What demeanor do you have amidst the conversations? Is your posturing one that is likely to put her immediately on the defensive? Are you exasperating her with your comments or attitude? I don’t ask these questions assuming you are at fault in any of this, but just to mention it as an important element.
When is filtering not the best approach?
As far as some of your specific concerns, it is perhaps best not to think of filtering and blocking as the solution that would be the most beneficial in these areas. My personal philosophy about filtering is that it is a great tool to guard against (1) accidental exposures, and (2) intentional visits to places one has personally purposed not to go. For instance, I use filters for my youngest kids because they don’t know better about what is safe. I also know many adults who use filters as a nice “safety net” to block access in moments of temptation.
Once filtering gets used to block people who don’t want it (or at least they don’t want the specific level of stringency), then conflicts are likely to arise. This conflict may not be a bad thing in the long-run, but parents should prepare for it. Your job in her life is to prepare her for a world without filters, without fences. That doesn’t mean having no filters, but it means relying on filtering less as she gets older and relying more on training her and using Internet accountability technology.
Take the Skype thing, for instance. Should you know that your daughter is using Skype? Yes. Should you have some kind of rules about when and for how long to use Skype? Yes. Should she be allowed to chat over Skype with people she met playing Minecraft? Sure.
While there might be some dangers to meeting strangers online, I would prefer in these scenarios to have discussions about how one lives out their values over these conversations (values like purity, honesty, integrity, privacy, etc.) and allow my child the freedom to do it. If your concern is predators, I would look at the latest research on that and really ask yourself if that is a legitimate concern for your daughter.
Or take the Tumblr thing. I personally don’t like Tumblr, and your daughter’s conversations there certainly aren’t good, but I’m not sure taking away Tumblr should be the first knee-jerk reaction we have as parents have to things like that. Tumblr is just one of many places where your daughter can have those kinds of conversations. Shut down that avenue and she can just have them somewhere else. I think the first thing to do would be to talk to her about those conversations to see if she has thought about the bigger picture.
I know she probably just thinks its all just harmless fun, but try not to make it about Tumblr. Its about her heart, her attitude towards inappropriate topics.
How to create Internet rules in the home
Overall, I think it is good as a parent to show the clear relationship between household rules and how you are tasked with shaping her character. They are not the same thing, but there is a relationship between them. Here’s how that might look talking to your daughter:
“Right now, as long as you live with us, I want to help to give you wisdom for living your life. You are a budding adult and some day you will leave home and make these decisions for yourself. Even if you generally agree with me now about what is right and wrong, I fully expect that you will come to different conclusions and convictions than I have about specific issues. That’s okay. But as long as you live here, I will have specific guidelines about how we carry ourselves as a family in our conversations with others—and that includes the Internet. Those rules are really meant to help you to be wise in your conversations and relationships.”
I would then sit down and come up with rules with your daughter (not for your daughter), not about what you are going to block, but about how she thinks she should use the Internet responsibly and in a way that demonstrates integrity. You throw in your input on other boundaries like how much time she is doing this stuff online. Get her to really own the boundaries (things like, “Don’t joke online about stuff that isn’t a laughing matter.”). Then tell her upfront that the consequence of not following the rules will be a loss of related privileges.
If she breaks through the boundaries, take the privilege away in a matter-of-fact kind of way (no anger of frustration).
If she sticks to the rules, allow her to keep the privilege and tell her you are proud of her for maintaining her integrity.
Whatever course you take in all of this, if you feel you have overreacted in any way, one of the best things you can do is admit that to your daughter and ask for her forgiveness. You might even share part of your own story with her so she can understand where your reactions come from. Ask for grace from her as you figure out how best to navigate the technology battles. I think kids these days (I just sounded like an old fart there…”kids these days!”) lack perspective on what it is like to live in a time of rapid technology jumps. It might help to say that every generation that has lived through this has had to make awkward adjustments: the printing press, the motion picture, the telephone, the Internet, the mobile boom—all of them come with big adjustments for those who didn’t grow up with them. Ask for her patience as you figure it out while still making clear that you want her to respect your desires.
Two kinds of parental authority
I think the big challenge of parenting teens (or kids in general) is understanding how to exercise our parental authority in a way that really disciplines our kids (not in the punishing sense, but in the “discipleship” sense). This is a major weakness I see in myself as a parent.
In his book, Father Hunger, Douglas Wilson explains there are two kinds of authority parents need.
- The first is institutional authority. This is the authority parents have simply by virtue of being parents. Children should honor their parents—even if their parents are jerks.
- The second is personal authority. This is the kind of authority parents have by taking responsibility, showing love, attention, affection, and giving children a sense of power and choice. It is the kind of authority that is earned through personal devotion.
Institutional authority is like having your name on the checkbook; you are the one with the ability to make withdrawals and deposits; you are the signatory on the account. Personal authority is like having money in the bank: you can only get out of the account what you put in.
- Some parents make the mistake of believing that they can’t possibly be out of money because they still have checks. They demand obedience from their children by virtue of their authority as parents—and they are right, in so far as their institutional authority goes. But their children are exasperated because there’s some breakdown in the dynamic between parent and child.
- Some parents make the opposite mistake: they think that if they deposit tons of money into the account, they’ll never have to write a check. They have a “just love on ‘em” attitude that means they end up being pushovers.
We must be gracious parents, making deposits of attention and dignity into our kids every day—and then making withdrawals by giving them clear boundaries and rules.
I’m not good at a lot of this stuff personally. I wish I could say I was a shining example of even one-tenth of everything I wrote here. I’m not. I’m learning and fumbling through parenting like all of us are.
Thank you so much for sharing on this topic. It has been a struggle in our family for years, it seems. At times I feel as though Satan is using technology to kill, steal, and destroy our children day by day. Fighting this battle can be exhausting. But we will continue to fight for our children each day, and I’m very thankful for resources like yours to help us.
Something that might help her daughter is to point her to Jessica Harris’ website: http://www.beggarsdaughter.com (esp. her Blog section; linked on the main page).
Even if her daughter may not yet have been exposed to porn (and hopefully not!), Jessica has a boatload of well-written, heartfelt, and biblically-based articles dealing with numerous issues such as lust, etc.–without Christianese–that IMHO might be very beneficial to her to browse through, especially hearing it from another younger woman’s perspective.
Another helpful site that tackles our culture head-on is: https://unlockingfemininity.wordpress.com.
Obviously, these sites aren’t a replacement for her mom; but they are another younger voice for the Truth exposing the lies and deception that we’re all surrounded by.
Parents need to wake up in America. Your teenage daughters are not on the phone all the time talking about school work or gardening. The biggest fallacy we have in this country is that underage girls are some innocent flowers. This is 2015, not 1950. June Cleaver no longer exists. Heck, the girls who used to climb trees with me when I was 15 no longer exist. They now wear g-strings, stilettos, and send nude pictures out all the time. They are sexually aggressive. This is what feminism wanted. The empowered girl. Girl power!! Well, I assure you, they are using their “power.”
The problem is this. Underage girls are never accountable for anything. They simply get away with murder. Parents make a litany of excuses for them because after all, if an underage girl does not know what she is doing, then that means the problem is not poor parenting, but instead the girl just simply does not know what she is doing. Hate to tell you but getting on the computer, logging on to the internet, chatting, sending nude pictures, and hooking up is a series of well thought out decisions. After all, no one holds a gun to a girl’s head when she does this.
I keep hearing that teenagers are children. What on earth makes people think this? Just because the age of 18 is legal? Really? Because some arbitrary person in the past said 18 was legal? Really? Look at what underage kids are doing in society. They kill, rob, mug, drink, drug, have sex, lie, and cheat. Those are not the actions of children. Those are the actions of adults. Denial of this fact is not an option.
I am sorry. I know parents want to be comforted. They want to be told it is going to be okay. That their girls are simply naive and do not know what they are doing, but the reality is that they know exactly what they are doing. Until, you start holding them accountable, nothing will change. You will still see underage girl after underage girl at clubs on the weekend going after older men because frankly, there is no incentive for them not to do this.
You know the ironic thing about it all? I am in my 40s and every woman I have ever dated admitted to dating older men when they were underage, but they somehow delude themselves and think their daughters aren’t doing the very same things even as those daughters were walking out the door in those 5 inch stilettos. I know it isn’t every girl in the country, but frankly, it is much more than we acknowledge. Hold your girls accountable. That is the only way this improves. If you doubt me about the extent of this, go look at all the porn pictures of women on the net. Billions upon billions of pictures made by millions upon millions of girls and that is not even counting homemade porn on people’s personal devices. The problem is huge and it is because for decades now we have only held men accountable for everything.
Being honest, I really am not sure what your comment has to do with this article. Perhaps you can help me make some connection I’m not seeing.
I don’t think I or the woman whose e-mail we received is coming at this issue with the perspective that underage girls are “innocent flowers.” Rather the opposite: the presupposition of the post is that children and teens naturally gravitate to objectionable things, which is why parental monitoring, oversight, and wisdom is needed. The whole tenor of this article is the opposite of what your comment implies.
To say “Underage girls are never accountable for anything,” is a gross over-generalization. It sounds like you don’t know any teenage girls who actually seek out accountability to better their behavior. We see it all the time. No, of course, someone who wants to have their own way will avoid accountability, but it is patronizing to label all teenage girls as somehow on a mission to “get away with murder.” Perhaps you don’t really think that because later you tell parents, “Hold your girls accountable.” I guess I’m just not following you.
Perhaps you can shed some light on this. Do you really believe that parents think that when a girl sends a nude picture online that she somehow not using volition or making some kind of choice? I’ve never met a parent in my life who thinks this. In fact, if parental reactions to such things are any indication—such as scolding, punishing, disciplining, etc.—then parents clearly think their teens are making their own choices. They just believe they are making foolish choices.
“Interesting” — You sound like you’re buying the lie porn is trying to sell: that porn is the fault of the girls in it, that they’re all just girls gone wild, that they deserve what they get, and that men aren’t responsible. The “billions upon billions of [pornographic] pictures” online are not “made by millions upon millions of girls.” Most are made by men using girls, and in more cases than any of us would like to believe, by men who are abusing and even trafficking girls. And to be fair, it’s mostly men who are fueling the production of the images. Do men bear all the blame? No. But without men producing and consuming porn, the problem would be infinitesimal compared to what it is. As Josephine Butler said long ago, “Something must be done, and that something is that men must learn to live chastely.”
Thank you for responding to that comment by “Interesting”.
I was appalled at the gross generalisations being made by that commenter.
Just as an FYI, I happen to know that there’s TONS of porn on Tumblr. Really, the most awful stuff is available there as they have a total “free speech” pretty much anything goes policy. And as the sites classified as social media it’s a definite huge loophole,