27 Apr 2017
In part one of this blog, I laid out a multi-layered plan to protect your family from porn while they are at home and connected to your home Wifi network. Now, let’s get to the outside-the-home protection plan.
How can I protect my kids when they leave my home or access their data plans?
One great way to eliminate the temptation for your kids to use their phone for sexual sin is to get them a basic phone. Do they really need a hand-held device that is more sophisticated than the information technology that sent the Apollo Space missions to the moon—especially when an unfiltered smartphone can connect to porn in mere seconds? We at The Student Outreach know of brave teens who’ve asked their dads to let them trade in a smartphone for a “dumbphone,” because they were sick of being tempted by porn.
But if your kid must have a smartphone, how can you protect them?
1. Install Filters and Accountability Software
First, you need to buy filtering and accountability software for each Internet-enabled smartphone, tablet, or laptop that leaves your home protection.
Remember Circle With Disney from our first post? Circle with Disney filters every device using your WiFi router. Circle with Disney just recently released an app called Circle Go that applies those very filter settings used on your router to devices as they leave the home. This might be a great way to kill the proverbial two birds with one (and a half) stone(s).
2. Disable the Downloading of Apps
It used to be that one had to use a browser to find a website. Today, apps are the new web browsers. As you might guess, kids can use many apps to access porn. You need to go into the settings of your child’s smartphone or tablet and disable the downloading of apps so they can’t add apps on their own. If you install a filter/accountability app but don’t disallow adding new apps, your child can load an app that works around the filter/accountability app or delete the one you just installed!
The parental settings, including disabling the downloading of apps, should be password protected. That way, when you kid wants to load a new app, they have to have a conversation with you about it. In other words, we don’t lock down the apps so that kids with a smartphone can only make calls. We lock down apps so that, when they want to download one, they have to come to us to do so. All this, like receiving accountability reports from your kids, facilitates dialogue.
3. Research and Dialogue about Devices, Apps, and Media
Your child says, “Can Johnny drive us to the game tonight?” Before we say, “Sure,” we parents ask some questions and even do a bit of private investigative work, like calling another trusted parent for the inside scoop. So don’t take your kid’s word on how appropriate an app, artist, or movie is. Research it yourself.
Use Google to your and their spiritual benefit. Go to Google and type in, “Is (blank) safe for kids?” or “Can (blank) app be used to access porn”? We recommend Common Sense Media, too. It is the best place I can find for new apps, websites, TV shows, movies, etc. Iparent.tv also includes many “how-to” videos, reviews of apps, etc. Pluggedin.com is also a good resource.
All of this research facilitates a running tech-dialogue. When your child has to come to you for the downloading of an app, it gives you time to research it. It also helps you begin to ask good questions of your child in the meantime: “What do your friends use this app for? What are some benefits of the app that you can see? What might be some downsides to having this app? What would you like to use this app for?”
4. Test Your In-the-Home and Outside-the-Home Protection Plans
You won’t be doing anyone any favors by failing to check to see if things are running smoothly. Randomly test the protection systems you’ve put in place. You may find yourself on a site that you don’t want to see, so do your checking together as a married couple or with a trusted Christian friend. Check all the devices. Something almost always doesn’t work from time to time. Nothing is foolproof.
After being as faithful and savvy as we can to protect our kids from the sexual corruptions of the world, we must trust the Savior and Redeemer with our kids. Only He can save our kids from the sexual corruption, self, and sin within. We must trust Jesus to work in our kids’ hearts and in the sexually broken world they inhabit until His kingdom comes in fullness. Knowledge of and trust in Jesus’ power helps us parent out of dependence, trust, and faith. And that’s a good place for any of us to be.
In all of this, we want to keep the dialogue open with our kids about technology in the home. We want to be talking to them about the measures we are taking to steward technology well. We want to be talking to them about both the dangers and the benefits of the technology we have. And most importantly, we want to approach them as fellow sufferers, not just sinners, in this crazy world, who can approach the throne of Jesus together for help and strength in our moments of weakness.
24 Apr 2017
A few years ago my best friend from college called me in tears. Their six-year-old son typed a “potty word” into a search engine and, for three weeks, watched hard-core porn videos until he was caught.
No one wants to be an overprotective parent. Overprotective parents breed ill-equipped kids. But we must be appropriately protective. Even though boys 12-17 are the largest per capita consumers of internet pornography, the threat of porn exposure is very real for younger kids and girls. Almost all kids are exposed to porn in their tween and teen years. The call is clear: We have to both minister to (Catching Your Child in Sexual Sin) and protect this rising generation in the face of such a media-savvy, sexually broken culture.
This post is about protection: In part one, I will cover an inside-the-home protection plan, and in part two I’ll discuss an outside-the-home protection plan.
What ways can we protect our home from pornography usage? Our family protection plan includes overlapping means of protection. Some of these might seem like overkill, but trust me, they are necessary.
1. Filter Your Router
All your wireless devices (laptops, tablets, e-book readers like Kindle, smartphones, gaming consoles, and even newer TVs) can connect to the Internet via your WiFi router. Filters act like walls that prevent users from accessing inappropriate content, and filters that attach to your router block porn at the source. Routers can be filtered by installing software like OpenDNS, but another option is to get a hardware device that filters all Internet enabled devices you assign to your home WiFi network.
In my home, I made a one-time purchase of $99 on such a device, Circle with Disney. After downloading the Circle app on my wife’s phone, we customized our filter for each child and each device. We can set time limits, view search histories, block specific websites and apps, and set bedtimes, all customized to each of my four children. Other devices like this include Torch and Clean Router. So far, Circle with Disney is working great for us!
There are, however, two things these awesome router filters can’t do. First, if your child takes her device over to a friend’s house, she can access the Internet on that family’s WiFi but without your router’s protective settings. Second, even if your child is at home, he or she can go into the “settings” on a smartphone or tablet and switch off its connection to your WiFi. Then the data plan kicks-in, and the device accesses the Internet via their data plan.
2. Enable Password-Protected Search Engines
Some may think that if you have router protection, then this step is unnecessary. However, we advise multiple layers of protection. While there are many browsers and search engines like Yahoo, Bing, and Internet Explorer, as of now, Google is the only major search engine that gives the option for password-protected parental controls (Google SafeSearch). The big point here: You must set and guard the password. You can, of course, block access to other search engines through your filtering programs, but this step is not foolproof.
Everything mentioned so far restricts access to inappropriate content on the Internet, but you will need one more, crucial element to your family protection plan.
3. Install Accountability Software on All Devices
Accountability software will email a report of Internet use to an accountability partner; it’s the hall monitor of the Internet. Router protection only filters and blocks, so we recommend accountability software as well. This report will actually enable you to see the websites your family is visiting and will give you an opportunity to see where your family is using their time.
A filter is simply mechanical, but accountability is relational: An accountability report invites discipleship conversations with your kids that you can talk not only about their Internet behaviors, but also about their heart and walk with the Lord, as you see what is most important to them via what they are accessing on the world-wide web. It needs to be said: Adults need honesty too with peer accountability partners, their brothers and sisters in Christ!
There are a lot of great companies offering accountability software: Covenant Eyes , Net Nanny, Safe Eyes, and many more. The big point here is to actually check those accountability reports. Accountability software only works when accountability in relationship is in place.
Our kids are in a war, outwardly assailed by the world and inwardly wrestling with lust, selfishness, confusion, and shame. If we abdicate talking about these struggles, and if we simply neglect to protect them, we leave them absolutely isolated and vulnerable in this war. So, use everything we’ve mentioned in this post to move toward your child’s heart and encourage them with the grace and hope of Christ. They need that in the face of their hyper-pornified culture.
22 Mar 2017
One God, eternal, sole, my creed doth know,
Mover of Heavens, being Himself unmoved;
Loving, desiring Him, around they go.
– Dante, Paradiso, Canto XXIV, 142-145
When Dante looked up at the night sky, he perceived that the universe was literally moved by the Author and Creator Himself. In other words, Love set the circles of the cosmos in motion. I think it’s safe to say, we don’t naturally think like that, especially in regards to sexuality.
In attempting to torch Jacob’s ladder, we have forsaken our only hope of sexual meaning, purpose, and peace.
Our sexuality is naturally secularized. The reason it is secularized, however, isn’t because we live in a progressively-secularized culture; our sexuality is secularized because we live in a cosmic insurrection, a post-Eden, pre-New Heavens/New Earth jam-fest of sin and rebellion. So what is the most foundational part of a secularized sexuality? And in light of that, what is the one thing we can give students to help them live sexually faithful lives as followers of Jesus?
Burning Jacob’s Ladder to the Ground
In defining secularization, I haven’t come across a better definition than this: secularization is “essentially forgetting Christ, because secularization is the isolation of the world within its own immanence” (G.C. Berkouwer, The Work of Christ, 18). A secularized sexuality has forcefully isolated itself, drummed up its own existence as all-defining, and attempted to burn Jacob’s ladder to the ground. We have asserted ourselves as creators, movers, and independent powers over and against the reality that we are creatures to be moved and dependent on the goodness of God for the very breath we breathe. And Genesis 3 declares that it is our abandoning of God Himself which actually causes and accounts for all of the angst, confusion, loneliness, guilt, shame, and absolute mayhem we experience in our secularized sexuality.
If we want to recover a meaningful sexuality; if we want to experience freedom from the guilt and shame of porn; if we want to know that our same-sex attractions are not the end of the story; and if we want the peace that comes from knowing that the sexual chaos in this world, including our own fear, insecurity, pain, and longing, is not calling the shots, we need to wake up: we do not live in an isolated, cosmic snowglobe. In attempting to torch Jacob’s ladder, we have forsaken our only hope of sexual meaning, purpose, and peace.
Recovering the Wonder
While we can talk about best practices in terms of technology, relationships, sexual boundaries, etc., the most fundamental aspect of discipling a sexual struggler is to reposition his or her gaze around the Love that moves the universe. We must aid them in rekindling the wonder, devotion, fear, and love that come from knowing the One Who is the “Image of the invisible God” and “the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15), through Whom and for Whom all things were created (v. 16); the One who is “before all things” and in Whom “all things hold together” (v. 17); the One who is the “head of the body, the church”; “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (v. 18); the One in whom dwells “all the fullness of God”; and the One through Whom peace was made “by the blood of his cross” (v. 19-20).
You might be surprised that most youth ministry curricula actually fail to talk about Jesus and His work. How many small group or large group talks simply edit Christ out of the picture and promote either moralism or licentious living through cheap grace? Do we pray with our students, coming to the feet of Jesus together? Are we constantly talking about Him and His work in our talks and in our relationships with kids?
As parents, are we actually talking—and I mean literally talking—about Jesus? Do we pray with our children? Do we stop at the sunrise to comment on how our Saviour and King loves to give good gifts to us? When we visit my parents, my mom will sing in the morning, “This is the day that the Lord has made” to my little girl. What a wonderful reminder of the Creator and Sustainer of our universe! Do we confess sins specifically in our homes and ask for forgiveness? Is there grace extended in the name of Jesus?
Combatting the secularized sexuality of our students—and of ourselves—starts with turning our gaze elsewhere, with developing a family and ministry vocabulary that centers around the reality of Jesus Christ. This is about escaping the prison of our own immanence to rejoin the universe in its grand song to its loving Creator, Sustainer, and Savior.
The opposite of a secularized sexuality is a Christ-exalting sexuality, and a Christ-exalting sexuality has been de-isolated from the self. It has re-established a communion bond with God, a heavenward gaze that stands in wonder, awe, fear, and love at the face of our God in the person of Jesus Christ. The one who glorifies God with his or her sexuality thinks like a creature, as one who is dependent, finite, and above all, loved. Only when we fix our gaze on Jesus will our sexuality find its true place in the universe: not as creator, but as creature; not as master, but as servant; not as mover, but as moved. Only then will we be set in motion, not by pride, selfishness, angst, isolation, and fear, but by Love Himself.
High phantasy lost power and here broke off;
Yet, as a wheel moves smoothly, free from jars,
My will and my desire were turned by love,
The love that moves the sun and the other stars.
– Dante, Paradiso, Canto XXXIII, 142-145
“In attempting to torch Jacob’s ladder, we have forsaken our only hope of sexual meaning, purpose, and peace.”
22 Feb 2017
The proverbial kid in the candy store is a striking portrait, and so is our obsession with smartstuff, the internet, and porn. The Internet and smart technology, permeated by a wonderland of varied apps and social media platforms, seem to be omnipresent in our niche of the world. And with porn being a seemingly ubiquitous part of our existence, it might be prudent for us to develop deeper levels of thoughtfulness regarding Christian discipleship.
As we at the Student Outreach speak at events across the country, a lot of parents and youth workers yearn for the details of helping students deal with porn and their technology: the methods, the words to say, the filters to use, and everything in between. And the “nitty-gritty” is important to talk about. The concern for the nitty-gritty, however, is trying to manage how to eat the candy in the candy store, but I’m concerned that we’ve refused to acknowledge that the candy might be laced with cyanide. In other words, it might not be a question of simply modeling good tech usage for our kids, or teaching them how to use their technology for the glory of God. Mr. Wonka might actually be a fiend and not a friend.
More basic than method or detail is the worldview by which we interpret the universe around us. Along with the nitty-gritty ways to help students manage the Internet and their devices, are we coming to terms with our own worldviews—and helping students come to terms with theirs—which oftentimes assume an enslaving normality?
Let’s hear from Jesus: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30).
Implicit in Jesus’ words is a love for Him than surpasses anything else on this planet. Christ Himself is the motivation for students and ourselves to take drastic measures in our lives, to ponder our walk thoughtfully even to the worldview level. In the wake of Him, every minute detail of life, even the thing that seems so indispensable, is to be filtered through this question: will this contribute to me following Jesus? Another way to put this would be in terms of the two great commandments: will this help me love God and love others (Matthew 22:36-40)?
One of the goals, then, of discipling students is to help cultivate in them a superior love for Christ that will enable them to formulate worldviews which are radically oriented around the Kingdom of God. To be sure, evil doesn’t begin in the candy store; sin begins in our own hearts. But the candy store can play a significant role in how our flesh roams. Assuming, then, that there’s more to be done than simply “cutting off” whatever facilitates our stumbling, let’s turn our attention to the sugar-saturated store itself.
Question the Closeness of the Internet
In helping students deal with pornography, what’s a more basic worldview question than, what are the best filtering and accountability options for my device? It’s this: is having the Internet so close to me all the time facilitating my walk with Christ? For the student who consistently struggles with pornography, the answer seems to be an emphatic no.
But let’s push things further. Shouldn’t we all be concerned with having such a powerful and potentially destructive force in our hands at all times? The answer is less emphatic, but we must certainly wrestle with the question. Practically, we would do well to consider whether any of us should have our own passwords to download any app we see fit. But more than that, it should cause us to question the very world-wide web itself and its accessibility in our lives. What if we actually removed our capabilities to access the internet on some of our devices altogether? What if, through our use of filtering software, we implemented times throughout the day during which we can’t access the Internet?
Question the Smartness of Smart Technology
As a corollary to questioning the closeness of the internet, maybe we should also thoughtfully ponder the role that smartstuff plays in our lives. Apart from the somewhat terrifying reality that smartstuff might actually be conditioning us for impulsive consumption, let’s bring our phones, our tablets, our watches, our tvs, and everything else that we can use to access pornography before the feet of Jesus.
Perhaps we should begin with this question: Should I even have smartstuff? Before we rejoice that we aren’t like that guy over there looking at porn regularly on his smart device and thus might be able to manage our technology, we should also remember that we are more like that guy than we would often care to admit. How much time are we spending on our devices, so radically close to the dangerous porn-precipice? It might be time to get rid of that tablet. It might be time to regress to a dumb phone.
I want both myself and the students whom I serve to be so radically devoted to Jesus and His Kingdom that they question the very assumptions and foundations of our modern culture. Are we helping kids to form worldviews that perceive the supremacy of God in Christ as the ultimate point of life? Are we helping them to see that everything else flows from and is informed by their primary allegiance? Are we ourselves thinking thoughtfully about the things we allow to invade our lives?
Jesus knows that anything we give up on this side of eternity will be nothing compared to what is now given to us in Him and what will be given to us by Him when we reach the other side. If we centered the discussion around our devotion to Christ, with His splendor, glory, and superior beauty, and asked hard worldview questions of the assumed pillars of our existence, we might begin to look radically different than the world around us, find a measure of sanity when it comes to porn, and most importantly become more thoughtful, intentional, and devoted followers of our Lord.”Mr. Wonka might actually be a fiend and not a friend.”
02 Feb 2017
Jan asked her fourth grader, “How was school today?” James said, “We played Never Have I Ever, and I said, ‘I’m never going to become a girl.’” And then he added, “Mom, that’s something you don’t have to worry about with me.”
Transgender issues are not only in our faces as adults, but they also confront our kids. This raises the question, what should we teach our kids about transgenderism and gender identity?
1. Teach God’s wise and loving design for sexuality
Before we deal with transgenderism as a particular aspect of sexual brokenness, we need to give our kids the positive teaching of God’s design for sexuality. They need to grasp the wisdom of God’s design for sexual wholeness to have a context in which to understand sexual brokenness and sin.
Let me encourage you to take opportunities to talk in age-appropriate ways about sexual topics. You can discuss how great it is that God made them male or female and how God made marriage to be a blessing. For a good place to prepare for such discussions, check out our six-part “Sex Talks” blog series.
Also, discuss with your kids some of the reasons why people don’t follow God’s design for sexuality. We talk about sin not to raise legalistic pharisees but rather to have gospel-centered conversations. The good news of the Gospel doesn’t make sense without the bad news of sin and the Fall. So when we talk about sin in others, it can help us point our kids to their own need for Christ.
We can build on the example of a sibling selfishly stealing a cookie to bridge into discussing how selfishness can motivate someone to have sex before marriage or use porn. Gospel-centered conversations about particular sins are not about denouncing a sinner but about empathetically understanding the temptations “common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13). We can help our kids trace the connection between someone’s unbelief in the goodness of God to his or her sinful choices.
2. Educate yourself about transgenderism from a Christian worldview
Our culture believes that gender is merely a human idea or a social construct. But the truth is that humanity is not free to come up with its own self-definitions precisely because we have a Creator and Redeemer who authoritatively defines all things. He reveals His truth about gender, sex, and marriage, and His boundaries are good and laid down for humanity’s flourishing.
The terminology of transgenderism is confusing. One key concept we need to understand is gender dysphoria. This phrase describes an individual’s experience, usually in childhood, of developing feelings that one is uncomfortable with, or even hates living as, his or her birth gender. Some gender dysphoric children become convinced they were born in the wrong body and try multiple ways of living out the other gender. Later, some gender dysphoric people pursue hormone therapy and even gender reassignment surgery.
We must teach our own kids to have compassion for those who struggle in this way. Yet this compassion needs to produce redeeming love, not affirm desires that lead to self-harm.
Here’s a link to Harvest USA’s Fall 2016 Magazine that has four articles covering several important, biblical perspectives on transgenderism.
3. Find out what your kids know and think (or think they know)
Some younger, churched kids may not be aware of transgenderism, but how can our tween-aged and teenaged kids not be? Therefore, ask questions to discover what they know. Perhaps they’ve seen celebrities like Catlyn Jenner or ads for the TV show I am Jazz. Ask them what they think about these celebrities or why someone would be desperate to change his or her gender.
Their opinion may surprise you. Considering the distress of transgendered people offers our kids an opportunity to learn about people’s hearts in general, their own hearts specifically, and how the gospel applies to us all.
4. Teach them about God’s gift of gender and the temptation of gender transitioning
Talking to our kids about gender takes us back to the Garden of Eden. God made us either male and female in His image. Both genders are awesome, wonderful gifts to be celebrated and great responsibilities to be stewarded for God’s glory.
But what did Adam and Eve do with the gifts and the Giver? When tempted to trust their own wisdom, they rejected God, sinned, and experienced the Fall. If Genesis 3 was made into a movie, the serpent would have told them “Trust your heart!” and “Follow your feelings.” So things haven’t changed; we are still up against Satan, the world, and our sinful flesh.
Therefore, we must teach our kids the dangers of trusting our hearts and following our feelings. While your children may not be tempted to change their gender, they all know what it is like when desires of the heart become dictators of their lives.
That’s the key to understanding someone’s desires to transition. But a gender dysphoric kid is not the only one to have disordered desires and deluded thinking. These desires and thoughts are “common” in our kids who are tempted by more socially accepted sins, like dressing immodestly, using porn, or going too far sexually when dating.
The truth is that we all know something is not right with us, that we are flawed, needy, and trapped. Christians and non-Christians have real sufferings. The gospel truth that we can teach our kids is that no one can save himself or herself from suffering. We can’t transition ourselves into a state of peace, fulfillment, and bliss. But we know the One who will one day in His kingdom, and we can trust Him with our sufferings here and now.