A resource for parents navigating the world of tech and social media.
“Never before in the history of telecommunications media in the United States has so much indecent (and obscene) material been so easily accessible by so many minors, in so many American homes with so few restrictions.”
– U.S. Department of Justice
After almost 20 years of full-time youth ministry, talking with thousands of teenagers and kids in churches, schools, conferences, camps, detention centers, homes, and on the streets in countries around the world, we’ve seen and heard first hand the questions and heartbreaking situations this generation is having to fight through. Although the root of those struggles may be the same as generations before, the massive influence those problems have in our culture is louder, bolder, and more accessible than any other point in history.
We wanted to extend any tools we have to those on the front lines right now. That’s you, parents! God has anointed and qualified you to lead your household through this unprecedented time.
This isn’t by any means a comprehensive guide, as technology is ever-evolving, but you’ll find links and helpful resources to help you navigate your kids through the realm of media and device safety in a hyper-sexualized world. Now because of quarantine, screen time has erupted with our social interaction and schooling almost exclusively online. What may have seemed like a foreign battle has become a minefield on your home turf, and you can do something about it.
First things first.
If you think your child hasn’t been exposed to some form of pornography, sexual content, or isn’t in danger of seeing those things until they are older, we are telling you – THEY ALREADY ARE. It’s a fact that 75% of adolescents have seen pornography by age 18, but our estimates and experiences put that at almost 100%. The average age of a child’s first exposure to porn is between 7 and 11 years old, but that’s just the average. That means for many their first time seeing pornographic content is even younger. The most common platform for that? YouTube. Where? AT HOME.
If you are thinking that you don’t want to go too far and expose your kids to the possibility of masturbation by bringing it up, it’s already a common topic. This used to be a taboo subject and for the most part was publicly undiscussed, especially by the church. However, in the past few years, the topic of masturbation has gone from private shame to public praise in all forms of media. Even more recently, with social distancing and millions of people on “stay at home” orders, porn and masturbation are more acceptable than ever. Porn Hub recently announced that during April, they are offering their premium access to anyone – for free. Although there were already 1000’s of hours of pornographic content accessible to children on the internet (including the rape of children), the most popular porn website in the world is purposing to engage younger viewers with no proof of age required. In March, the New York City Health Department a document concerning safe sex during COVID-19 saying, “You are your safest sex partner,” encouraging masturbation as well as sexting, video dates, and chatrooms. Vogue is using Snapchat and Instagram as platforms to encourage sexting and masturbation among minors, listing reasons why they are healthy, and including graphic how to’s for both male and female.
Just because you have good kids doesn’t mean they aren’t getting approached.
It’s not about your kids being “good kids,” it’s about what they are constantly being offered. Even if they haven’t stumbled on or looked for pornography, the daily messages they are receiving from the culture are as blatant as someone handing it to them. It’s the same concept as the familiar advice growing up, “don’t talk to or take candy from a stranger.” Except now those strangers aren’t on the neighborhood street corner peddling sugar. They are at your kitchen table, sitting on the couch, and in your bedrooms – anywhere there’s internet access. Their “candy” of choice is meeting a need. If your child is bored, curious, lonely or sad and needs entertainment, porn jumps in to provide. If your child needs self-esteem and affirmation, an online predator will quickly meet that need. Don’t assign the term predator exclusively to someone who lives in their basement filming kidnapped girls. A predator is anyone who is talking to your child without your consent. This also includes big-name corporations and celebrities, who push products, lifestyles, and beliefs that reinforce the enemies’ agenda on the largest stage in the world – digital media.
Not on my watch.
The good news is that there has been some incredible research, testing, and step by step instructions from organizations built by parents to help you keep your kids safe online. There’s not a one size fits all solution for blocking inappropriate content across all platforms. There are several different levels of measures to take, especially depending on the age of your kids. Here’s a plan of attack to protect your family with links for helpful resources we recommend:
1. Your home’s wireless router
You get to decide what is accessible on your WIFI network. CleanBrowsing offers three powerful filters for FREE: Security, Adult, and Family. Keep in mind that this only covers the internet network. If you are using data on a phone to reach the internet this step would not be able to block that content but is crucial as a first means of defense for computers and tablets.
This includes phones, computers, iPods, gaming systems, and anything with the ability to connect to the internet. The first step is setting up parental controls, which is explained in detail for most popular devices here. Screen Time on iOS has some great features that will help block a lot of content on browsers, block additional websites (or only allow websites you want), restrict which apps can be used, disable downloading or deleting apps, select who can be contacted from your child’s phone, set time limits for each app, as well as set a downtime for the phone, so for example, Snapchat can’t be used after bedtime. Using the device’s parental controls is a must.
Along with the parental controls, you need an additional layer of filtering because there are definitely gaps within the device’s controls, as well as unfiltered networks your child will be connecting to when not at home. Protect Young Eyes just did an extensive test and compared 14 software solutions for devices, with options for every budget and scenario.
The software we would recommend to any parent of a child or teen that uses social media is Bark. It monitors over 30 social media platforms, all text messages, emails, videos and pictures, and alerts you if it detects any potential risks, including sexual content, self-harm, violence, suicidal ideation, drug or alcohol use, cyberbullying, and depression. It’s $99 a year and there’s no limit to the number of devices it will monitor within your family. Keep in mind it’s a monitor that flags you and does not automatically block everything bad (although it does have additional filtering on top of your phone’s parental controls). There’s no such thing as a “click and forget” option for keeping your children safe.
3. App and Game awareness
Knowing what apps and games your kids use is a huge step to seeing firsthand their world and what they are exposed to. You cannot safeguard what you are not aware of. Many gaming systems have the ability to talk online with other users in group chats and message boards. Protect Young Eyes has a great list of popular games, social platforms, and apps with the potential dangers and anything else you would want to be aware of. Many apps like Instagram may seem harmless, but it’s guaranteed that your kids are receiving daily targeted messages from aggressive porn moderators and other accounts looking to exploit minors. All it takes is clicking a link or mere minutes of conversation with someone who sends a message to escalate into an alarming situation. Making all accounts private will greatly reduce the number of direct messages that come in from unknown accounts, but checking them regularly, talking to your kids about it, and knowing in person who all their friends are online is vital.
The fourth and most important factor in all of this is building your relationship with your child. You can’t keep your children under a rock, but you can set them on one.
Be the one they get their information from. If you aren’t their information source Google and porn will be. Google is an anonymous Q&A for any question your child doesn’t want to ask you, and 60% of kids watch porn to get more information about sex.
Give them answers before they have questions. It’s not just, “How are babies made?” Answer questions like, “What does this part of my body do? Why does it feel good when I touch it? Why do I feel embarrassed to talk about it? Is that wrong? Why are there things I shouldn’t look at? What’s sexting?” All of these topics and more can still be covered with the right lingo for their age! If they hear the truth from you first, any lies they encounter on their journey won’t hold any lasting power.
Constant conversation. What was known as the “the sex talk” back in the day, didn’t work. The problem as many of us may remember, is that it was usually a very vague and more confusing than not, one-sided, nervous spew of why you shouldn’t have sex until you’re married. Conversation about their value, their bodies, relationships, and sex, should be worked into your daily life. Give them lots of room to voice what they think about those areas, and walk them through what God says about it in His Word and all the BENEFITS that come from His promises.
Teach your kids how to respond. This starts with simple things like looking away from inappropriate commercials and billboards, training them that we only look at what is pure and honorable. People’s bodies aren’t for entertainment. Looking away isn’t just spiritual advice, many therapists implement this simple method as well. This is all practice for the heavy hitters when you aren’t around. The most important response your kids have is that they aren’t afraid to talk to you about it, no matter what they may have seen or done.
Bring in backup. Voices from other people you trust and your kids respect so it’s not just, “what my parents say,” but a powerful echo they are hearing from every direction. Get them in a youth group that openly teaches the Word about their identity, sexuality, purity in thought life, and how to live free from sin and bondage. The Church is your greatest ally during this critical time in your child’s life.
Model it. If your Netflix feed is full of trash, what you are teaching them will be ineffective. The power that will propel them forward in a life of purity is found in the household culture led by your example.
Don’t panic or bring in shame as a response to what they are telling you (or what you find out). They have been dealing with shame and condemnation the entire time it was hidden. Now is your opportunity to be the resounding voice of freedom and grace.
And lastly, it’s not too late. Start now. God can redeem any mistake you or your kids may have made. He is the Healer of the brokenhearted, He is the Great Restorer of everything that’s been lost or stolen, and He can set any captive free! You may get some kickback from your teens if they already have a phone without oversight and restrictions, but their freedom is worth fighting for. No amount of teenage independence or privacy is worth giving them in comparison to a lifetime that’s free from pornography addiction, harmful sexual exchanges, and regret. You are a freedom fighter, raising the next generation, right where you are – AT HOME.
There’s a lot of good resources out there, here are a few we use and recommend!
- Porn Free – Curriculum by John Bevere (30 day free trial to Messenger Courses)
- Sex, Jesus, and the Conversations the Church Forgot – Book & Curriculum by Mo Isom (The video curriculum is now free)
- Follow freedomxfighters on Instagram to stay informed and aware of what this generation is currently facing, and how you can be a Freedom Fighter!
If you want more info or need any help please call us at (855)380-2238. We would love to help!