In almost every sense of the meaning I find that technology sucks. It sucks time, money, energy, electricity, emotion, innocence and focus. This isn’t to say that I reject the positive aspects of the electronic age, but advancement has come at a cost. And the cost is not that we have, but that we have too many: too many emails, text messages, tweets, articles, posts, blogs, games, options, shows, channels and interest. In my immediate family alone we have 5 people with a total of 20 Internet, satellite, or texting capable devices:
- 5 Mobile Phones
- 5 Computers
- 3 TV’s (connected to a satellite provider)
- 3 Tablets
- 2 Gaming Platforms (1 TV based / 1 Handheld)
- 1 Blu-Ray/Netflix Player
- 1 Wireless Router/Modem Combo
Now here is where this really sucks, each of these are a portal to various levels of porn. Anything going out is a conduit for bringing unwanted things in. Therefore, if you are seeking to establish protections for your boys, while still remaining connected electronically to the outside world, be prepared to have a lot of your life and time sucked away to do it, but realize it will be worth it! In this final post to the series I will outline all the various ways you can get ahead of these opportunities. By tomorrow I can imagine that many boys will be very bummed to find that the way they were getting their secret fix is now coming to light.
Where To Start?
For the last couple of years I have sought to be rather vigilant in this area, but this Christmas we gave our son both a computer and a mobile phone and with that came the challenge to proactively work through additional safeguards. And challenge was no understatement. So challenging in fact that it’s pretty tough to plug all the holes. I can guarantee that outside of removing every electronic conduit in your home you cannot establish an airtight seal that will keep out the noxious fumes of hard-core porn (straight, gay and other), soft-core porn, sexting, sexually suggestive programing, sexual articles/stories or sexual advocates that are contrary to your values from your home. This is particularly why I saved practical measures for last and emphasized discipleship first. Jesus is your first and greatest offense, “controlling” technology is a useful, but incomplete defense.
Additionally as a disclaimer – I am not an IT engineer. I am a pastor with a moderately average knowledge of technology. I don’t give the following solutions as the exhaustive manual on “How To Porn Proof Your Home.” I could have gone to friends far more knowledgeable than I in this field, but I am running with what I know specifically as an encouragement. Some reading this will be very savvy in the overall realm of modern communications. Others will be more like me and have to hunt for answers. That means it takes some work. It will suck some time. It will keep sucking time since technology and adolescent prowess evolve at lightening speed. Yet the investment of time will pay off with a life of healthy dividends.
A Clear Edict
I find that with teens you can never be clear enough. As adults we are used to reading between the lines or understanding the intent of things, but for an adolescent abstract thinking is still developing. Therefore having clear, non-sarcastic, non-belittling guidelines from the outset makes a world of difference.
- “I can look at any of your electronic devices at any time I want without warrant, warning or permission. This is not to invade your privacy, but to protect your heart and mind.”
- “I get passwords to all sites, devices and email connected to you and I will be monitoring them. This is not to pry into your personal life, but to safeguard it.” (Remember parents, our goal isn’t to “catch them” but to “grow them.”)
- “I can grant or revoke any privileges you have electronically for the sake of your good. This is not for the purpose of punishment, but to honor my biblical responsibility to Jesus as your parent.”
In all of these, never feel bad as a parent for not being as carefree as other parents. There is a fine line between carefree and careless.
Rerouting Your Router
Your Wi-Fi Router is perhaps your most unconsidered device when thinking about porn. Makes sense since it doesn’t have a screen and to the best of my knowledge I’ve never heard of a 12-year-old boy was aroused by three blinking lights. Because of this many parents assume that protection begins at the device with the screen. Now a few years ago this was easy since Wi-Fi was a computer only feature, but today many kid oriented devices are Wi-Fi enabled such as the Nintendo DS or PlayStation Vita, not to mention that devices such as Xbox, Wii and PlayStation all come with Internet features. With so many options one way to put up a respectable detour is to address your router. On my home network we run OpenDNS. It’s free and it’s pretty effective at blocking content at the router (unfortunately it does not typically work for those of you cursed with a satellite provider due to their configurations). You can customize it to a limited degree and it is password protected (don’t pick any family familiar passwords – use your 4th grade teacher or something they would never guess). What is especially great about this is that it blocks most every device that connects to it regardless if the device has filtering software or not. Therefore outside of your son discovering the password or resetting the whole router it’s a good first line protection. Sometimes it blocks non-offensive content, but again this is a small price to pay.
P.S. Knowing the technological brilliance of some boys I would advise you both change the password on occasion and keep it recorded someplace non-electronically. Also make sure you still have control of the router by intermittently typing in your password, thus making sure they didn’t reset and type in their own. They can be crafty little hackers.
Filter His Computer & Password Protect All Others
I am a big fan of program called X3 Watch. Having said that, it’s worthless for a boy. We have it on all our computers and the reports go to my wife for overall accountability. Yet for a boy we need more than getting a report of the 200 porn sites he hit over the last 7 days. Therefore on my son’s computer we put Net Nanny. It’s customizable for both content and times of use (I don’t allow it to have internet activity between 9:00pm-7:00am). It is password protected, generates activity reports and can be accessed remotely.
In addition to this we do not allow him to use his computer in a bedroom or any room where a door is closed. We basically handle his computer like a loaded weapon and Net Nanny as the safety. In other words for the non-gun readers: just because it has a safety doesn’t make it safe and additional precaution is mandatory. If your son only has a desktop and it’s in his room – take it out, it’s just that simple.
On the additional computers in the home I would advise either installing Net Nanny or at a minimum running X3 Watch for general monitoring, but restrict access through password protection. Again pick a password your kids do not know and set those computers to need that password anytime they are turned on, opened up or come out of sleep mode (setting the sleep mode to every 15-30 minutes). A boy on a mission will look for any device not secured.
Making Mobile Devices Less Mobile
This is the tricky one right here. Not only do you need to be mindful of the obvious ones, but also the subtle ones such as sexting, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, or the 4 other options that just came out in the last 45 seconds since I started this sentence. The other part that is tricky is that unlike computers and routers that have a bit more uniformity, every mobile device is radically different from platform to platform or carrier to carrier. Even more challenging is that most of the operating systems on mobile devices are not designed to allow for a single program to monitor the whole device (such as Net Nanny on a computer). Therefore you will have to do some homework on your devices, but here is what I did with our son’s iPhone. I’m sure others can add solutions for Android and Windows in the comments section below.
The iPhone/iPad Itself
In the “Settings” – “General” – “Restrictions” I set a 4 digit passcode and disabled:
- Safari (the web browser)
- Camera (if your son needs a camera, give him one without digital sending ability)
- FaceTime (it automatically turns off with the camera)
- Installing Apps (this is HUGH – if you leave this on he can go get any other Web Browsing App he wants thus working against your efforts. If he wants an App you can do it with him. I give my son time every once in a while to do a big app download over 20 minutes and then I look over what he downloaded before I disable to Installing feature)
In the place of Safari I purchased the Web Browser App Mobicip. It’s very much like Net Nanny for an iPhone, but it’s the actual browser and not a program that monitors browsers (which is why you need to disable Safari and restrict Installing Apps). I also limit the times it can be used in the remotely accessible settings panel (again between 9:00pm-7:00am)
The Service Provider & Texting
With AT&T there is a month additive you can buy called Smart Limits. This allows you to control hours of usage and restrict texts that can come in or out through an approved phone list. In this I have only allowed family and close known friends to be on the text list. If he needs to interact with a person not on that list, a good old fashion phone call is perfect. Texting lowers too many inhibitions for adolescent kids and so not even giving the option until they have a couple of years under their belt is a good thing. And for the first time in this whole series I would say this goes doubly for girls.
On texting as a whole you shouldn’t have as much a fight if you start off with limits. If you are seeking to implement these later down the road it may be a bit harder.
IMPORTANT – Turn off (or never turn on) iMessage on their iPhone. iMessage bypasses Smart Limits since it is Web based, not Provider based. You may have to do some homework as to settings in Apple ID accounts so they can’t turn it on themselves as easily.
Additional iPhone/iPad Devices In The Home
If you don’t opt to take the same measures on your own devices, make sure you set “Autolock” with a “Passcode Lock” that only you know. Personally I have adopted the same standards for my own phone that I placed on my son’s. It is a way of standing in solidarity with him.
Keeping PlayStation From Becoming Play(boy)Station
In our home we have an Xbox360 in the living room (again, no potential Internet access points in kids bedrooms unless they are controlled by an hours of usage option). Our particular Xbox is a bit older and so it does not have an onboard Wi-Fi option. When we choose to access Microsoft Live we establish a Wi-Fi bridge via an Ethernet cable and one of our laptops. Therefore the Xbox is dependent upon another device that I have more control over based on the above precautions.
Obviously this is not everyone’s situation. Most new consoles and handhelds have built in Wi-Fi, thus having the OpenDNS option is a benefit in blocking the use of the browsing clients on console and handheld gaming platforms. Luckily some of the systems also have their own content filtering options as well. Some of these options may have better protections than others as far as passwords or pin numbers to engage or disengage the content filtering. The reality again is that we can’t just do it once and never check in again on it. Each device will suck some time to keep monitored, but the initial set-up instructions for the top brands are below:
HBOooo That’s What “TV-MA” Means
Premium channels and Pay Per View options are another area where the definitions between entertainment and “mature” entertainment are being blurred, and this too creates an opportunity for our boys. Now some of you may feel safe because you don’t pay for premium programming such as HBO, Showtime and Cinemax, but throughout the year these channels offer free trials with opportunities for soft-porn viewing. There are also the Adult Pay Per View options that offer “discreet” billing (i.e. the title is nameless on your billing) and thus are easily overlooked when paying bills or billing is automatic.
The best solution here is to set the rating on all your TV receivers to an acceptable level and block all adult channels behind a passcode that only you know. This is perhaps the easiest safeguard of all the opportunities for pornography.
Not Necessary Pornography, More Like Impuregraphy
The last thing I would add is so vast I needed to make up a word. Much of this whole series has been dedicated to the sometimes narrowly viewed theme of pornography, but the issue is much bigger. It entails any electronic opportunity that would misinform, ill-define or put at risk a biblical example of sexuality. Many of these are especially difficult to block because they sometimes fall into the realm of non-filtered content. It may come in the form of provocative movies through Amazon or Netflix, or through highly questionable (but technically permitted) videos on Break, Vimeo or YouTube. It may not even be sexually explicit as must as sexually contrary to your views (something even more serious with the tender and impressionable age of adolescents when kids are in search of an identity before they are capable of discerning one). Personally I know I can’t monitor every possibility, but what I have done is restricted all the major video sites on my son’s mobile device via the “Blocked Sites” option in Mobicip and then only allowed him access to such sites on his computer in the living room with the family around.
The Big Idea
Overall you as a parent are their best guide, filter, advocate and advisor. Thus you must be perpetually connected, talking and monitoring. You must be displaying a healthy and open view of biblical sexuality. And yes, it will be awkward for everyone involved. So start the uncomfortable discussions, ask the leading questions and share your own challenges. In short you want to be discipling their heart. Use the technology to your advantage like texting your son on how’s he’s doing or if he has questions. Just as texting lowers inhibitions in the negative, it can also be a means of him opening up to you as well so that you can swing around later with a face to face.
Our calling as parents is clear, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6). Training isn’t exclusively commanding actions. Nor is it merely blocking opportunities. It is a concert of Bible, gospel, wisdom, heart, mentoring, failure, repentance and grace – along with additional protections that aid in keeping their hearts from corruption so that they may grow into the godly men Jesus seeks.