In this series I’ve been examining 5 things people can do to cultivate virtue. Point 1 about organizing self-less activities can be read here. Points 2 to 4 about creating alternate heroes, strengthening willpower, and nurturing connection can be read here.
That leaves point 5: Protect against invasion.
No matter how hard one works to strengthen themselves or their children, we are imperfect people living in an imperfect world. So what safeguards can be put in place, particularly due to the invasion (such as pornography) that technology can bring into one’s home? Here’s the list I recommend at the Parent Support Meetings I teach at:
a) Have a “no technology in the bedroom” rule; it simply decreases the odds of a child accessing pornography if they’re using technology (at least in your home) with other people around. Consider the story of a 9-year-old girl in England who had set up a profile on a dating website, which connected her to a couple in Canada, who had sex in front of a web cam for her and were planning a camping trip where they could have sex with her. A rule about no technology in the bedroom could have dramatically changed this situation; however, it’s important to point out that even technology in shared spaces can be used improperly when no one is around, which is why the next step is important.
b) Put a filter on all your family members’ devices. Covenant Eyes has a good one and you can learn more about it here.
c) Continually ask the question, “Why?” when you make decisions. When I speak to parents of 11-year-olds, I ask how many of their kids have cell phones. A few raise their hands. So then I ask why their child needs a phone? If a child, who is a minor, is always with a trusted adult, and if adults have cell phones, then a child doesn’t need a phone. However, there are some times where that isn’t the case; as one parent told me, his child uses public transit so the child needs a phone in case of an emergency. In this case, asking “Why is a phone needed?” brings us to a good reason for getting a phone. But, it brings us to a good reason why only a phone-calling phone—not a data-enabled device—is needed. As my fellow trainer Sue points out, her kids’ first phone is a flip phone that they have during their high school years—that enables her and them to communicate, and for them to have a resource to call for help in an emergency, but which doesn’t have access to data which is not needed and could give access to harmful material.
When considering giving teens devices that adults use, such as data-enabled phones, it’s important to remember that the teenage brain is not properly developed. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor gives an excellent explanation of this in her TED Talk, in which she states her great motto, “Keep ‘em alive to 25.” There are some things adults do (e.g., drive a car) that we don’t let children (e.g., 13-year-olds) do because we realize that while the tool is very helpful, it can be dangerous if mishandled. Even when we eventually do transition young people to driving, it is with training and supervision before they are left independently with a car. Technology, which is helpful but can be dangerous, should be treated the same way.
d) Have conversations—lots of them—with your child. Don’t just make rules without explaining them. Listen and talk. Ask good questions. Speaker and author Matthew Kelly illustrates well the art of good questions for teaching one’s child at this link (click on preview and listen at 4:31). Use analogies to help your child understand that rules are meant to help us, not harm us; for example, you could ask them to think about stoplights at intersections and what the red, yellow, and green lights mean. Then ask them what would happen if a person going one direction thought red meant go, and a person going in another direction knew green meant go. The subsequent crash would be bad, and potentially fatal. The standard about the meaning of stoplights and the expectation that people follow the rules is meant to help us run as a civil society and keep things peaceful and safe, rather than be unduly restrictive. So it is with a parent’s rules—they are meant to help us, not harm us.
Moreover, spend time—with your child—going through websites like Fight the New Drug and Chastity Project, watching video clips and reading the material and then discussing together. Let your child know they can come to you to talk about anything they are struggling with or stumble upon, and make sure you are calm, receptive, and compassionate in the face of your child revealing weakness.
e) Foster silence: There is so much noise, visual and audio, in our culture today that it can be hard to hear the voice of God; it’s difficult to perceive the still small voice of conscience. Consider Elijah: In 1 Kings 19 God wasn’t in the wind, earthquake, or fire. Rather, He was in a whisper. Elijah heard God’s command in the silence. So too must we make it a priority to encourage times of silence in our homes, which should lead to prayer and repentance. As author Jacques Philippe writes, “Prayer enables us to draw from God a life that is ever new, to let ourselves be continually reborn and renewed. Whatever our trials and disappointments, harsh situations, failures, and faults, prayer makes us rediscover enough strength and hope to take up our lives again with total confidence in the future.”