I recently sat down with Cheryl Hoskins, a member of the Covenant Eyes development team, and her husband Paul. I asked them to talk about their experience using the Covenant Eyes software with their family. This is their story.
Conversations About a Minefield
Like many parents today, Paul and Cheryl Hoskins faced the challenge of helping their teenage children navigate the dangers and temptations of a digital world. Cheryl is a software developer, and more aware than most parents of the technical side of things. Despite her expertise, however, she also recognized that there was something unique in the way her kids were experiencing it, “When my husband and I were teenagers, pornography was hard to find. You would have to seek it out. They live in a different world. They have to develop a different set of skills.”
Paul is a professor who works with theological students, “I was first introduced to Covenant Eyes by a student who came to work under the office that I was in,” he explained. “He came in and said ‘I want you to take my [school-issued, unmonitored] computer away into your office and bring my own computer in to use.’ He said, ‘Look, I use Covenant Eyes and it’s on my computer, but I can’t put it on the school’s computer. That’s why I need to take the school’s computer away.’”
This encounter with his student clued Paul in on the extent of the porn problem, “[My student] said, ‘I think this is more prevalent with your students than you think. I think you need to talk about it.’”
Both Paul and Cheryl recognized the problem, but it was still challenging to discuss it with their family in a meaningful way, “We had been having conversations about pornography. I know it’s not the kind of thing where you have just one conversation–you have multiple ongoing conversations. But life is busy, right? It would maybe be six months before we’d bring up the conversation again.”
The Hoskins teenagers weren’t hooked on porn—they just faced the ordinary struggles of growing up in the 21st century. “I feel like there’s this minefield that they’re living in,” said Cheryl.
They started using Covenant Eyes with their family and felt the benefits right away, “[Our son] was open and welcoming to having [accountability]. Knowing that this isn’t going to be kept in secret helps him make good decisions.”
Despite Cheryl’s technical background and knowledge, there were things her son was facing online that she hadn’t realized. Cheryl explained, “I’m not very engaged with social media. I know different demographics are targeted differently, but I don’t think I had fully appreciated the way he is targeted on Instagram. It’s not just a battle for him to not go seeking it–it’s constantly being put in front of him as an option that he has to guard against. Without some help, without some guardrails, it would be super hard to develop good patterns.”
For Cheryl, having Covenant Eyes on her teenagers’ devices provided those guardrails, not by blocking content but by creating an avenue for discussion. “[It]serves as a launching point for one of us to talk to him.”
“What I like about Covenant Eyes for our family at the stage we’re at now is, I don’t want a lock-down. I don’t want to be controlling them—I’m in the process of launching them. I’m trying to help them move to where they’re going to be in a dorm and have all these freedoms. I’m trying to help them navigate to the reality that they’re moving toward.”
Cheryl went on to explain that some people misunderstand their use of Covenant Eyes. “They think it’s just for people who have a serious problem.” But that’s not the case for Cheryl’s family—they use it because they recognize the dangers of porn and don’t want it to become a serious problem.
Covenant Eyes is for families like the Hoskins who are trying to navigate the minefield of porn.
Conversation About Porn at the Dinner Table
When Cheryl joined the development team at Covenant Eyes, it opened the door to many conversations about the difficult subject of porn.
In fact, owing to her work, porn and the struggles people face with it are frequent subjects of conversation at mealtimes. Cheryl laughed as she told me, “The kids are like, ‘Mom it’s just not normal to talk about porn at the dinner table,’ and I’m like, ‘It’s good for us!’”
“It’s about timely conversations,” Cheryl explained, “It’s really internet hygiene. It’s asking, ‘What are you going to do when you’re presented with this? What steps are you going to take?’”
The conversations haven’t been limited to their family. Cheryl explained, “[It helps my son] have conversations at church. It’s an easy in – ‘My mom works at Covenant Eyes.’ They are like, ‘Oh, I thought I was the only one struggling with this. But now we can talk, and there’s a whole group of them that got [Covenant Eyes] and keep each other accountable!”
Cheryl told the story of a friend who opened up about his porn struggles during one of their dinner-table conversations. “We were having dinner with one of his friends, and because he knows this is a set of conversations we have in this house, he started talking about struggles with pornography, his testimony, and I appreciated that it was a conversation [we could have].”
Covenant Eyes is for families willing to talk about porn at the dinner table.
Making Avenues for Timely Conversations
Paul added, “I just had this conversation recently with a friend who has a teenage son. He’s on the fence, ‘I don’t know if we need anything.’ [I told him] Invest the money now rather than put it off.”
Cheryl acknowledged, “We’re just busy as parents. You can be well-intentioned but not get around to having the conversation. As parents we might say, we have our kids’ passwords, we can log in any time and see what’s going on. But how often do we actually do it?”
The Covenant Eyes reports provide an avenue for that conversation. “[It’s] a glimpse into our children’s lives. Without the report, it’s not as much of a priority. It’s not a one-time decision. It’s a constant decision, and Covenant Eyes reports help us have timely conversations.”
Covenant Eyes is for families who need to have timely conversations.