Internet Safety is an Illusion
4 Critical Things Parents Must Do to Protect Their Children from Porn
As Christians, we should be the least naïve people on the planet when it comes to Internet safety. Sadly, this is not often the case.
The notion of that we can totally shield our children from the sexualized culture in which we live is based on the poor assumption that with enough technology, as a parent, I can keep any evil a bay. But for the parents who believe their children are sinners, just as they are sinners, they know this assumption is false. Sinners go looking for sin, and no fence, no matter how high, will keep temptation away for long.
Of course we should use good technology. Of course we should protect our children from incidental exposures to sexualized media. But if this is all we do, we are ignoring the single most significant threat our children face when it comes to purity: their own hearts. “The heart is more devious than any other thing, and is depraved; who can pierce its secrets?” (Jer. 17:9, NJB).
Internet Responsibility vs. Safety
The most important thing parents can do to protect their children from Internet pornography is to prepare them to fight it. Some day they will leave our homes, and as young adults they will have to contend with the forces of darkness. Are you preparing them for that?
That is the difference between Internet safety and Internet responsibility.
- Internet safety says, “The big, bad Internet is out to get my kids, so I’m going to be the fiercest Intern watchdog I can be.”
- Internet responsibility says, “The Internet is full of temptations that appeal to the sin in my children’s hearts. I will do all I can to train them so they can eventually be their own watchdogs.”
4 Ways to Train Children
“Never, when you are being put to the test, say, ‘God is tempting me’; God cannot be tempted by evil, and he does not put anybody to the test. Everyone is put to the test by being attracted and seduced by that person’s own wrong desire. Then the desire conceives and gives birth to sin, and when sin reaches full growth, it gives birth to death.” (James 1:13-15, NJB)
Using a metaphor of reproduction, James presents a four-step model to temptation: (1) desire, (2) conception, (3) birth, and (4) death. Let’s apply these to Internet responsibility and purity.
1. Desire: Teach them to guard their hearts
It’s someone’s own desires that are the starting place of all sin. Yes, the world can and does “surprise attack” our kids with sexual images. But in the end, our kids chase after them because they find them alluring. This is where the battle begins.
We need to teach our kids the difference between good desire and inordinate desire. Evil desires are often not for wrong things, but rather misplaced and excessive desires for good things.
Sex is a good thing. It is good, as they come of age, for our kids to want sex. It is not good when that desire becomes an idol: something they are willing to sacrifice God’s standards and another’s dignity to get.
Strengthen your kids’ hearts against pornographic temptation by teaching them about the goodness of sex and how to spot an inordinate desire when it crops up. When they feel that strong desire to go down the road of sexual temptation, they need to have the language to say to themselves, “This is a natural, good desire, but to pursue this now is not God’s way. To stoke the fires of lust is unloving to God, to others, and to myself. Lust does not please God. It treats others as objects. And it takes me away from the kind of loving, self-giving person I want to become. I am turning away from this temptation.” We must teach them to guard their hearts (Prov. 4:23).
2. Conception: Give them new rituals
When the desire to sin is present, what are the online rituals our kids engage in that place them one step closer to the objects of lust? It is different for each child or teen. For some of them, it is the time of day or night they get online. For others, it is getting on Facebook or Instagram. For some, it’s responding to text messages from the opposite sex late at night. For some, it might be particular websites or videos that trip them up.
As you talk with your kids about sexual temptations online, help them identify their rituals that put feet to their sinful desires. These rituals probably look benign on the surface, but underneath them sin is being conceived. They need to be taught “sin contraception”: saying no to the rituals that put them in temptation’s path.
3. Birth: Stop sin at the door
The moment our kids are about to engage in some pornographic sin online (sexual or flirtatious chatting, sexting, looking at pornography or sexual images, etc.), we need to have a plan in place for them to kill their sin. Obviously, if they are revved up to do something sexual online, it’s a little late in the game. But there are still blockades we can put in place to stop sin at the door.
The most obvious one is having good technical measures, like Internet filtering. But this should also be coupled with good Internet monitoring and accountability. If you child is trying to look up sexy stuff online, you should know about it, even if the filter stops him or her from seeing something. You should be getting a report of all their online activities e-mailed to you regularly.
4. Death: Teach them the consequences
If not dealt with, all sexual sin, when it is fully-grown, brings forth death: emotional death, relational death, at times physical death, and ultimately eternal death. As parents we must fortify the hearts of our children with this information.
As children grow into teens with their own sexual curiosities, they need to understand the consequences of sexual sin—beyond just STDs and unplanned pregnancies. They need to learn that online lust robs them of the joy of genuine intimacy and love. Lust is a thief that comes to kill, steal, and destroy.
They need to know that the reason we fight against lust is because we want to fight for joy.
Use stories from Scripture to demonstrate the consequences of unbridled lust (there are plenty of them). Use stories from your own life. Impress on your children that though online sexual temptations look attractive, they are only halfway houses to death (Prov. 7:27).
Impress on them what that genuine intimacy is meant to bring. They need to know: when they are saying no to porn, they are really saying no to death and saying yes to life and joy. Teach them this.
Luke Gilkerson is the general editor and primary author of Breaking Free, the blog of Covenant Eyes. Luke has a BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies and is working on an MA in Religion. Before working at Covenant Eyes he spent six years as a campus minister. Luke’s favorite activities include blogging, reading theology books, starting random philosophical discussions, dating his wife Trisha, and playing with his four sons. Luke and his wife blog at IntoxicatedOnLife.com.