“Excuse me. The pastor mentioned pornography in today’s message. Do you have any resources on that?”
From my position behind the info booth at my church, I hid a little bit of a laugh from the middle-aged woman standing in front of me. Offering her the resources the church had on hand, I added, “I also work at Covenant Eyes, and can get you more specific help, if you want. What sort of information do you need?”
It turned out her young daughter had been on her school’s playground at school when a classmate pulled out a tablet and showed her porn. In one moment, her daughter’s innocence was shattered…and her own life gained a whole host of worries.
Porn to Go
This is not a unique situation, and it’s only going to get worse. As mobile apps and tech improve and become less expensive, more kids and teens are going to be given smartphones and tablets—by schools, to improve the educational experience, and by parents, to ensure they can always get ahold of their kids.
One study earlier this year found that nearly 75% of teens own or have access to a smartphone—a percentage that’s likely to go up over the next few years. And, of course, this stat focuses on smartphones, not tablets or stripped-down mobile wireless devices like the iPod touch®.
If online safety on mobile were as simple as doing, say, a nightly check of the history on the phone’s browser, a parent’s job wouldn’t be too difficult. But as it is, 71% of teens hide their online behavior from their parents. That means clearing their browsing history or using Incognito Mode (aka “Porn Mode”). And then there are a plethora of apps that parents may not even consider as risks: any app that allows private communication (WhatsApp), access to the phone’s camera (Snapchat), or lets the user access even a small corner of the internet (Tumblr) is theoretically subject to abuse.
The point is not to be alarmist. Teens using Pinterest most likely aren’t installing it in order to search for porn, for example. But accidental exposure to porn can lead to intentional searches, so it’s best for parents to be aware of the risks involved with specific apps.
What Covenant Eyes Is Doing to Protect Smartphones
If you already use Covenant Eyes in your home, there’s some good news: we’re constantly working to make our services even better and make your job as a parent easier.
Over the years, we heard a lot of requests for better monitoring; if Facebook has been a problem for a Covenant Eyes member in the past, it’s painful to force that person to access it through the monitored browser app instead of through the unmonitored Facebook app, for example. And while we are intentionally cautious about monitoring secure (https) websites because we, say, don’t want to read your e-mail, we also knew we were failing our members by not monitoring incognito mode and apps that require a login to use (like Facebook or Pinterest).
That’s why we completely rebuilt our Android™ app.
July 2018 Update: We have released a new version of our app for Android. Learn more here.
We now monitor regular browsing and Incognito mode on several major browsers, and also monitor pages visited on a growing number of apps, including:
We offer app locking as well, so if you don’t want your kids using or installing apps we don’t specifically monitor, you can simply block them completely.
(By the way, we’re looking into solutions for similar coverage on iPhone®, but due to Apple’s policies, we’re not quite there yet.)
What Parents Can Do
Of course, even with these major improvements, parents still need to take action for their kids’ safety. Covenant Eyes is an excellent start, but we should be just that: the starting point for your child’s online safety, not the only tool.
Here are just a few additional steps:
1. Conduct regular app reviews.
Hundreds of new apps are released every day, and it’s hard to know what one will take off and become incredibly popular, or which ones pose hidden threats, or which ones are completely harmless.
For younger kids especially, you may want to block their ability to install apps completely. If you have the Covenant Eyes Android app, you can use App Locking to lock down Google Play. On iPhone, the setting is built into the operating system.
Then, any time your kids want to install an app, investigate it first. Do a bit of Googling to become aware of its capabilities, and decide based on the age and maturity of your child whether you want them to use it or not.
I personally counsel you to allow apps as often as you feel comfortable; middle and high school are stressful for teens socially, and you want to be your child’s ally, not the enemy. But if necessary, don’t be afraid to say no to specific apps because they make you feel uncomfortable. You’re the parent, after all, and their safety is your job.
2. Tell us what apps to monitor next.
As you review the apps your kids use (or want to use), you may notice some apps that only make you uncomfortable because they aren’t monitored. Take Facebook or YouTube as examples; both are very open to inappropriate content, but hundreds of thousands of people use them every day for innocent purposes as well. Before we added monitoring for them, we encouraged members to access these sites only through monitored browsers; now you can install and use them, knowing that Covenant Eyes will report on what was visited.
We’re constantly adding popular apps to the list of what we monitor…but we can use your help. Tell us what apps you want us to include, and we’ll use that information to prioritize which ones we work on next.
3. Help educate the parents you know.
One of the best things you can do to protect your kids is to create an entire community of safe homes. After all, installing Covenant Eyes on your child’s phone protects your child’s phone. It doesn’t protect the phone of the kid on the playground, or your next-door neighbor’s tablet, or your child’s best friend’s family computer.
Your children’s friends should be protected as well. Tell the parents you know why you protect your family with Covenant Eyes, and share our ebooks so they know the dangers. By taking a stand on internet safety, you can help them take a stand as well.