About six months ago, I was approached by a European publisher who wanted to publish my book, Integrity Restored: Helping Catholic Families Win the Battle Against Pornography, in Italian.  Naturally I was flattered and agreed to have the translated book published.  However, before moving forward with this project, I needed to update my book.  Even though the book is only three years old, much has changed in the world of technology and pornography.  Pornographers have found new ways to enter our kids’ lives and get them hooked on Internet porn. With that in mind, I want to offer thirteen important strategies for protecting your children.

Because the average age a child first encounters Internet pornography today is eight, I divide kids into two age groups—those under the age of ten and those ten and older. This is because after the age of ten, most children enter the middle school years and puberty.  Their increased interest in sex at that point necessitates a different approach to addressing pornography.  Children under the age of ten must be protected from pornography so that they never encounter it. Children ten and older must be taught to reject pornography.

  1. Don’t be naïve. Everyone is at risk for being exposed to pornography. Unfortunately, there are parents who believe that children are too young to be affected by pornography. Research and common sense speak differently.
  2. Educate yourself on computer technology and the Internet. Children today have never known a world without the Internet, cell phones and social media. Technology is an integral part of their lives. If parents are going to protect their children, they need to know what technology kids are using and how they are using it.
  3. Monitor all media that enters your home. There are so many forms of media today, and like unseen parasites Pornographic material can enter the home through them, such as:
  • Television. Every year children spend thousands of hours watching television. However, over the past forty years the number of sexual references in television has risen exponentially. Even “family shows” now contain sexual references. It’s as if the censors in Hollywood simply gave up and went home. As parents, you need to decide which shows and networks are appropriate for your children and which ones are not. You may need to block certain shows or entire networks to protect your children, as well as limiting the amount of time your children view television. I recommend no more than one hour a day. Parents should also avoid using the TV as a babysitter.

In addition to monitoring what children watch, parents need to set a good example with their own television viewing, which means not viewing anything offensive, including trashy sitcoms, violent police dramas, risqué reality shows, soap operas, etc. I also don’t recommend channel surfing, which obviously can lead to viewing inappropriate or offensive shows. If children are around, even viewing it for only a minute or two can have an impact on them. Channel surfing is also a bad habit that children pick up by observing their parents. Thus, it’s best for parents to simply get into the habit of not channel surfing. Most cable, satellite, and Internet television systems have guide channels where one can find out what’s on TV without having to channel surf.

  • Movies. Even G-rated movies today can have sexual references. Hollywood seems to believe that unless a movie has some sexual content, it won’t sell. Research has shown that there is an 87% chance that a typical movie will have some sexual content (Kaiser, 2001), and so parents need to monitor the movies their children view at home and in the movie theater. Fortunately, the Catholic News Service rates movies for offensive content so that parents can ensure their children don’t view anything inappropriate. See www.CatholicNews.com/Movies.

As with television, parents need to set a good example with the movies they view.

  • Mail/Catalogs. While email has replaced much of the “snail mail” we receive, there is still plenty of junk mail that ends up in our mailboxes. This includes advertisements and catalogs, many of which include racy lingerie ads that are inappropriate for children to see. Many children enjoy getting the mail from the mailbox for their parents, but I advise against this. Parents need to be the ones who get the mail and sort out anything inappropriate. Offensive material should be shredded immediately and offensive catalogs should be sent back to the retailer. Those retailers should also be notified to remove your name and address from their mailing list.
  • Newspapers, Magazines, and Catalogs. While not as popular as they used to be, newspapers are still around. Many people don’t realize how offensive a newspaper can be; however, a quick look at the ads will show how much sex is used to sell products. This is most noticeable around Christmas and St. Valentine’s Day when newspapers are full of racy lingerie ads. Many newspapers also have “personals” sections where provocative ads for escort services are listed. Magazines must also be monitored, especially men’s magazines, provocative women’s magazines, and Hollywood tabloids.
  • Internet. While monitoring the Internet is a no-brainer for most parents, many are clueless as to how to protect their kids from Internet pornography. Many computers offer free parent controls to help protect kids. However, I have found many of these systems to be weak and easy to circumvent. Remember, children are often more technologically savvy than their parents, so parents need to research various filtering systems to identify the one(s) that will work best for them. Again, I recommend the filtering service offered by www.CovenantEyes.com.[1]
  • Music. The music industry also believes “sex sells.” The lyrics of popular songs have become increasingly sexually explicit. Pop, heavy metal, rap, hip-hop and R&B music are filled with foul language and sexually explicit verses, and anyone who has grown up with MTV knows how sexual music videos can be. The sexualization of music has been going on for decades. The radio is also a danger, especially when a parent driving may not be paying too much attention to the car radio. Instead of listening to popular music, which can be very offensive, I recommend families listen to classical and jazz music. While pop, hip-hop, rap, R&B, and heavy metal can agitate children, classical music calms them.
  • Video Games. Many parents are worried about the violence in video games, but they are unaware that these games can also be very pornographic. Before parents allow their children to play any video game, they should play it themselves to see if it is appropriate. Parents shouldn’t depend on ratings alone. Several websites review video games for parents and can help identify which games are appropriate for children and which ones are not. An excellent website to help parents evaluate video games is www.FamilyFriendlyVideoGames.com. Parents also need to beware of video gaming systems such as Xbox, Wii, and PlayStation, which are a means to the internet and, therefore, pornography.
  1. Keep all use of technology in public areas of the home. This is a common piece of advice that many people hear, but few follow. If the computer is a desktop computer, it’s easy to keep it in the kitchen where everyone can see it. However, many people today are trading in their desktop computers for laptops and tablets. Because of the portability of these devices, it’s easy to use them in any room of the house. This also applies to cell phones. Parents need to consciously enforce the rule that no one is to use any technology in an isolated area of the home, such as a bedroom or bathroom. There should also be time limits for using technology. I recommend no use of technology from 10:00pm until 8:00am on weekdays. At 10:00pm, all gadgets should be collected, turned off, and locked away. This gives kids’ brains time to rest and decompress from all the technology they have been using throughout the day.  It will also help them get a better night’s sleep so they will be well rested for the next day. Parents should also adhere to this rule.  In addition, there should also be rules for using technology on weekends. I recommend avoiding all use of the Internet, cell phones, and social media on weekends.  Kids need to realize that they do not need to be connected to their technology 24/7.  This will further give their brains a chance to rest. Parents should adhere to similar rules and make family time the focus on weekends.
  2. Monitor what children are doing online away from home and at public access computers. Beyond supervising all Internet activity at home on computers, cell phones, tablets, videogame systems, etc., parents must also be aware of children’s online activity away from home. This means ensuring that their friends’ parents are also vigilant about monitoring Internet activity in their homes when your children are visiting, and that they use proper filtering and accountability software. So many parents have told me that their child encountered Internet pornography while using the computer at a friend’s house. If friends’ parents don’t take these precautions, the child should not be allowed to visit that friend’s house. Internet use is now common among children in elementary schools and libraries. Parents need to ensure that school computers have proper filters and that teachers are monitoring all computer use. Parents should also investigate whether their local public library uses filters on computers in the children’s section. Unfortunately, because the American Library Association is against filters on all library computers, many libraries do not use them, even in children’s sections. If a library does not use filters and refuses to install them, parents need to supervise their children’s computer use at the library or forbid them to use those computers.
  3. Never leave your child alone with the Internet. As I stated previously, to do so is no different than leaving your child alone with a perfect stranger! Parents should always be present when children are using any device that has access to the Internet, including computers of any type, cell phones, tablets, iPads, eReaders, iPods, MP3 players, and video game systems. Children usually don’t understand the dangers of the Internet and they need to be taught it is not a toy. Parents can explain to their children that the Internet is like a sharp tool that requires adult supervision to prevent them from getting hurt.
  4. Never let your child use your cell phone as a toy. Often when I am out shopping or running errands I see parents giving their young children their cell phones to entertain them and keep them quiet. This is extremely dangerous for children. The children could be stumbling upon pornography on the phones as their parents are occupied with shopping. While this may appear to be a stretch of the imagination, parents can never be too vigilant about protecting their children. Letting children use a cell phone to entertain them is also like leaving them with a perfect stranger. One can never know what they might encounter.
  5. Limit screen time. This includes the television, computer, tablet, iPad, eReader, cell phone, iPod, MP3 Player, and video game systems. Unfortunately, many parents use these devices as babysitters. According to Norman Herr (2007) of California State University at Northridge, young children spend approximately twenty-eight hours a week watching television while parents spend only 3.5 minutes per week having meaningful conversation with them. We need to change this. I recommend no more than two hours of screen time per day for children. Parents need to focus more on spending more quality and quantity time with children. This may be difficult, especially for working parents; however, the sacrifices parents make to spend time with their children will pay great dividends. It will result in stronger and healthier family relationships and happier children.
  6. Children should not have iPhones or Smart Phones. Because more parents are working we have more latchkey kids today. Parents are buying their children cell phones to stay in touch with them. Children as young as seven now possess cell phones. While cell phones for children are a good safety measure, they can be dangerous, especially if they have Internet access. Thus, I do not recommend purchasing cell phones for children that have Internet access. I recommend the Firefly Phone at www.fireflymobile.com. This phone is designed for kids without offering Internet access. It’s easy to use and allows parents to keep in touch with them.
  7. Parents should restrict and monitor social media. Today, texting and email are an integral part of our culture, helping families stay in touch. Teachers and coaches often use them to communicate with kids. Parents need to monitor all emails and text messages that their children send and receive to ensure there is no inappropriate content. Texting should be limited so children don’t overuse it. Children should not have social media accounts, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat, etc., or participate in any chat rooms, which are common places for predators to lurk seeking out victims. Pornographers also use these forms of social media to lure kids into viewing pornography.
  8. Subscribe to an Internet filtering and accountability service. These are two different but necessary services. A filtering service attempts to block all inappropriate and offensive content so that Internet users cannot access them in the first place—an imperative service to have for children using the Internet. An accountability service doesn’t block any content, but it does monitor all Internet use so that if an inappropriate website is accessed, parents can receive an email notifying them of it. This is needed because even the best filtering services can be circumvented, and an accountability service can warn parents if the filter has been breached. Once again, the Internet filtering and accountability services I recommend are from CovenantEyes.com. More information on this is provided in the appendix. While Internet filtering and accountability are powerful tools for protecting children, I cannot stress enough the need for parents to always supervise their children’s use of technology. A child should never be left alone with the Internet!
  9. Teach children about the dangers of pornography. Some parents are shocked at the thought of teaching their children about pornography. They fear it will steal their innocence or make them more curious about it.  However, I have found this not to be the case.  While we do want to protect our children’s innocence, the average age when a child encounters Internet pornography today is eight.  It is better to be prepared if this should happen to your child.  I recommend reading Good Pictures/Bad Pictures: Porn Proofing Today’s Young Kids (2014) by Kristen Jensen and Gail Poyner.  This is book that parents read with their children.  It safely explains to them the dangers of pornography on an 8-year-old level. Kids learn how dangerous pornography is and to avoid it like poison.  It also encourages kids to talk to their parents if they should ever encounter pornography.  This will help them come talk to their parents when they become teenagers and do encounter pornography.  Parents can then be there to truly help their kids.

This list is not exhaustive, but it may seem exhausting.  The fact is that we face new onslaughts that could not have been foreseen decades ago.  Along with the above limits and safeguards, it is of course important that we teach our children the beauty and truth of human sexuality, as well as open communication about appropriate and inappropriate behavior regarding the human body.  It wont be easy, but it will be worth the effort.

The above is an excerpt from:

Kleponis, Peter C. (2014). Integrity restored: Helping Catholic families win the battle against pornography. Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road.

[1] For additional information on how to protect children from Internet pornography, I recommend Unfiltered: A Parent Workshop Kit by Covenant Eyes (2013). This kit contains a DVD, Workshop Guide, and Parent How-To Guide, and can be purchased at http://www.covenanteyes.com/webinar/. Another DVD conference I recommend is Informed: Equipping Individuals, Families, Churches, and Communities in the Battle Against the Pornography Epidemic (2017). It can be purchased at http://integrityrestored.com/Informed/