A lot of things change the moment you become a parent: less sleep, for instance. A higher tolerance for stains on that couch you used to love. And then there’s the fear.
As a father of a 2-year-old and one-month-old, I’m still learning to cope with that insistent internal anxiety that tells me 24/7, “You should be more strict—you should be less strict—you should pay more attention to your kid—you’re doing this wrong—TRY HARDER…”
Parenting, as it turns out, is really hard. And as kids get older, the stakes are raised, which is what makes articles like Barna’s latest survey on teenagers and pornography so frightening.
PORNOGRAPHY IS A SERIOUS PROBLEM
According to Barna’s research, 26 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds and 38 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds are looking at pornography at least once a week. It’s worth pointing out that these numbers are asking 12- to 24-year-olds to: 1. judge what is pornographic, 2. have the self-awareness to know how much they are actually looking at it, and 3. be honest.
I’d suspect the actual rates are much higher.
For Christians there are two obvious concerns about this: It damages our kids’ sensitivity to God’s voice, and it encourages them to think of sexuality as selfish and temporary rather than selfless and a lifelong commitment. But there’s an extremely significant third concern: the growing scientific data that shows the human brain is literally being rewired by consistent exposure to pornographic images.
Alarm about pornography used to be a purely conservative Christian point of view, but as a generation of parents is raising kids whose average first exposure to pornography is age 9, the concern has crossed political and religious boundaries. A few months ago The New York Times ran a story titled “It’s OK, Liberal Parents, You Can Freak Out About Porn.” There are numerous TED Talks raising the alarm and more and more secular research saying that pornography for the upcoming generation of children could be a huge problem.
UNSURPRISINGLY, YOUNG ADULTS DON’T AGREE
According to Barna’s research, only 32 percent of 13- to 24-year-olds think viewing pornographic images is usually or always wrong, as opposed to 54 percent of people 25+. That 32 percent ranks lower on 18- to 24-year-olds “wrong” list than not recycling, significant water/electricity consumption and overeating.
The generational drop-off makes sense: Those of us who grew up with the Internet are now seeing the negative effects it’s had on our lives, while the next generation is assaulted with sexuality earlier, more often and with more ease.
All of this is discouraging news, especially for those of us trying to parent kids through this mess. So what do we do? Well, I’m still early on in my own parenting journey, but I have worked in pastoral ministry with teenagers and young adults for years. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.
LIMIT UNMONITORED INTERNET USE
OK, you’ve probably heard this one before so let’s get a couple things out of the way: 1) this is really hard, and 2) you’ll never do it perfectly. As parents, you’re fighting an uphill battle with a world actively working against you. Give yourself some grace. That being said, there are some steps you can take to set yourself up to win.
• no computers, smartphones or tablets in the bedroom.
• have the house’s computer monitor face outward where anyone can see it.
• set up Internet filters that block questionable sites. There’s a lot to choose from.
SAY NO TO THE SMARTPHONE (…for as long as possible)
You’ll probably give in eventually, but there’s wisdom in waiting as long as possible. Your kid may need a cell phone to stay in contact, but she doesn’t need access to the Internet. Buy an old school flip phone and try to convince them it’s retro and cool. Give then a smartphone but turn off the data. Set up the phone to lock out any unapproved sites. Here’s a list of some different options for monitoring smartphone usage, but there’s a lot more out there. Google is actually your friend this time. Search “parental restriction smartphone” and go from there.
DON’T FORGET YOUR SECRET WEAPON
Earlier I mentioned how much fear parenting induces, and yet we are told by God that “perfect love drives out fear.” We tap into that reality through our #1 go-to secret weapon: prayer.
Our children are a blessing entrusted to us by God, but ultimately they are just that: God’s. He is the one overseeing their lives. He knows who he has created them to be and he can do what you can’t: protect them, shape their character and work even the bad things in their life for good.
I make a lot of mistakes as a dad, but the one thing I’m most proud of is before my kids go to sleep each night, we pray as a family and I ask God to turn them into the sensitive, brave, kind, passionate God-fearing men they’ve been created to be. I ask God to teach me how to parent them and I pray God’s blessings over them.
This is our job as parents, to be wise and relentless and vigilant…and to turn the rest over to God. When we do that, we can parent our kids through the ever-present danger of pornography knowing they are in hands far more powerful than ours.