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The 2-Part Process of Protecting Your Kids

Child looking at tablet

A parent wrote to us recently sharing this:

"I am concerned with the tech illiteracy of parents. I see families—afraid of legalism—go the opposite extreme and allow no rules. I see families who watch only G or PG rate movies yet give their Jr. High kids a smart phone."

Every expert we have ever talked to, secular or Christian, tells us no child under 14 should be allowed any personal device that connects to the Internet, including smartphones. Both Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, and Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, forbade their own teenagers from having smartphones or tablets. If they knew better, we should pay attention.

Even when a teenager is ready to learn how to be responsible with something like a smartphone, a lot of guidance is needed. It’s not just pornography that is a problem, but the barrage of messaging about sexuality on social media that deeply affects teenagers. Teens want desperately to fit in and when fitting in requires changing views on sexuality, they are often quick to do so. For example, it is common today to see teenagers change their sexual or gender identity shortly after getting access to social media.

Our culture is saturated with sexualized content

Unfortunately, smartphones are just one way kids can access sexualized content. Music apps often link to pornographic images. Teens learn to search for pornography on Amazon as it contains a lot of sexualized media, both digital and paperback. Smart TVs have internet access, and kids can use that to get around filters if they are not at the router level. Even with filters, none can be 100% fool proof.

But the internet is not the only source of sexualized media. There are loads of graphic novels in libraries and bookstores aimed specifically at teens and pre-teens that are extremely graphic and really nothing short of pornography. Even if they do not check out or buy them, kids can see all they want just browsing. Some of the biggest bookstores are particularly bad about promoting highly sexual content to teens in their stores. Of course, your children can also be exposed to sexual content while visiting a friend or relative, even one from your church or community group. The point is, children don’t have to be looking for sexual content to be exposed to it.

Protecting your kids is a two-part process:

  1. The first is doing all you can to prevent the kind of exposures mentioned above. While you cannot prevent all exposures your child will come across; it is very important to have a family digital safety plan.

  2. The second step of protection is frequent check-ins with them about what they are being exposed to. The question is not, “Did you see anything inappropriate this week?” but “What have you come across this week that we can talk about?” This can include reviewing a child’s internet search history with them.

To make these regular check-ins feel safe, I recommend two things:

  1. Start by sharing what YOU were exposed to this week. Demonstrate that it is okay to be honest about what people in your family experience.

  2. Remind them, “You will not be in trouble.” And, if they do share something, even if they looked it up on purpose, do not punish them. If your child is punished, such as being yelled at, grounded, or sent to their room, that will only teach them to be more secretive next time. It is appropriate to give logical consequences intended to protect them. You might say, “Let me keep your phone/TV/computer until we can find a way to make it safer” for example. But then don’t wait too long to come up with a way to make it safer.

For more information about responding to a child who has accessed pornography, see: Did Porn Find Your Child? A Loving, Practical Response for Parents

Strive for protection, not perfection

The last thing I want to do is create fear in parents. I am not trying to “shock” you or have you curl up in a ball, overwhelmed by what I’m sharing. Your aim in doing this is greater protection for your child, not achieving absolute perfection on your part. The ultimate goal is building a stronger relationship with your child through safe, open, and honest communication. Your kid doesn’t want a perfect parent anyway! They want a parent whose life is just messy enough for them to feel that they can relate to you and that it's okay to open up and share the messiness they’re facing.

Starting the conversation might even sound something like, “Look, I don’t really know what I’m doing; my parents never talked to me about sexuality, and all this stuff didn’t exist when I was your age. But I know it is my responsibility to protect you, and I love you so I am doing the best I can."

Empathy is key to avoiding shame

Have empathy for your child or teenager. Remember that your child will probably feel embarrassed or even ashamed that they looked at sexualized media. Their greatest fear is that you will reject them for doing so. So, don’t add to their shame. Instead, praise them for being honest about what they have done or seen. Let them know you are in this with them.

Finally, keep in mind that your child’s worth is not based on their mistakes. Be sure to tell them again and again you love them and that your love is not conditional or based on their blunders. You are both going to make mistakes trying to help them pursue sexual integrity, so be gentle with them as you do.

Take your next step in protecting your family!

We offer a variety of online training courses to help you and your family grow together in sexual wholeness and stand firm against a hyper-sexualized culture. All of our courses are self-paced, meaning your family can work through on your schedule. You also have lifetime access to every course you purchase, meaning you can revisit the lessons as often as you'd like.

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