I’m writing this from a place of frustration and also a place of fear. The fear is born out of the growing darkness that is being made available and accessible to our children at the touch of a finger tip, click of the remote or streaming on a device. The images, videos, conversations and connections that our children are able to make from a device that fits in their pocket is readily available to nearly every young person these days. For the longest time my kids were “The only kids who didn’t have iPhones”. (That was their words) I joke about that, but smart devices in the hands of children are becoming more common than not, unfiltered and/or un-monitored internet is the norm and unbridled reign on cable television is par for the course. That’s where my fear comes from.
The frustration comes from, what seems to be at times, a laissez faire attitude from parents (even Christian parents) concerning the spiritual protection of their children. I have been floored by what some parents not only allow their children to participate in, but readily provide for them as well. I know that our goal is not to tame our children but to train them to make God honoring decisions based on a Biblical worldview, but there are times that we as parents need to step in as the gatekeeper to our homes and protect our children from the enemy.
[Tweet “I know that our goal is not to tame our children but to train them to make God honoring decisions based on a Biblical worldview…”]
I’m not saying that these are requirements that all parents must do. I’m not saying that if you don’t do these things you’re not a good parent. I’m not saying that this is the right way, but it is the way WE have decided to parent our children when it comes to entertainment and technology in this world. My hope in sharing this is that it would inspire some parents to take up their sword and fight for their families while holding a shield to protect them as well. I also want to encourage parents who may think they are the only ones that have high standards that their children hate. Our enemy is real and he prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Do we really think he’s not trying to devour our own kids? So, here are six things my wife and I do that my kids hate. We do these in an effort to shield our children but also to teach them WHY and HOW we make God honoring decisions in our lives.
1. No cell-phones until 7th grade — I know for some families where both parents work out of the home, or even for single parent families, that a child having their own phone is incredibly helpful and even a safety precaution, but for us, we do not allow our kids to have a phone until 7th grade. They hated/or currently hate this about our parenting but we have decided that a personal phone at 9 years old is not a necessity and the potential problems it could cause are greater than the help it could bring. Before 7th grade we do allow a texting app on a device, and we have a family phone that stays at home for emergencies, but currently two of our four children do not have their own mobile phone. At 7th grade, with an increase in the out of home and out of school activities, we believe for us that this is the best time to begin allowing this responsibility and luxury. (Our kids pay for their own phone service out of the “salary” program we start with them in the 6th grade)
2. Parental Codes on ALL devices — I think a lot of parents don’t do this one because it is an absolute pain. There are some days I would rather not have parental codes on the TV, laptop, tablets, cell phones, but the risk is too great not to put up with this small pain. On our Dish Network we have the ability to put in a parental code that restricts any show rated over TV-PG as well as all On Demand purchases. We have a 14 year old and a 9 year old in the house. There are definitely some things we now allow our 14 year old to watch that we don’t allow for our 9 year old, but we keep the code anyway. It is a giant pain in the butt when I’m relaxing with my wife watching a show in our room and one of the kids needs the code to watch a show that we have allowed but is above the rating, but I would much rather have to walk downstairs and enter a code than be held accountable for taking no precautions and my child has free access to the world’s darkness. And don’t get me wrong. Our kids have successfully figured out our code on multiple occasions and started watching non-parent sanctioned programs without our knowledge or permission. They are not angels and they hate this shield we put up. I don’t know how many times we have had to change our four digit parent code on the TV.
Our older kids have their own smart phones now, but through a GREAT app called “Covenant Eyes” we have a parental code that has to be entered to unlock ANY app that is downloaded from the app store. When an app is downloaded, they cannot access it until we know what it is and enter the unlock code for them. We can also password protect the app store itself so they cannot have free reign to it. Again, they have at times successfully cracked the code and gotten around this, and have faced the discipline for that, but it is still in place none the less. On top of this protection, Covenant Eyes (on Android only) sends us a weekly report of every app they viewed in the app store, every app that was downloaded AND every app that was opened on their phone. “Jeff, it sounds like you don’t trust your kids.” At times, my answer is “You’re right! I don’t.” But as I’ve told my own kids a hundred times, “It’s not that I don’t trust you,it’s that I don’t trust the world.” Most young people who are first exposed to pornography don’t go looking for it, they “stumble” upon it by accident. No one else on this planet has been charged with the protection of my children but ME! I’m going to do all I can to be faithful at that job.
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3. Covenant Eyes on the computer — We have one computer that our family shares and each person has their own password to log into their own profile on the computer. Once logged into that profile, they cannot go anywhere on the internet without Covenant Eyes monitoring and filtering their activity, ME included. Covenant Eyes not only has the ability to track activity but you can block specific sites or specifically rated sites as well, and you can set time parameters for when your kids can be on the internet. This internet activity information is included in the weekly email we receive which monitors each child. Covenant Eyes is great because you can’t just disable the program. The internet actually won’t work unless Covenant Eyes is enabled, and the moment it is deleted I am alerted of that activity. We use Covenant Eyes for EVERY staff member at Element as well.
4. Phones turned in at 9 PM — 9 PM is typically lights out in our house. When my wife and I hit the hay at 9 PM our kids are supposed to as well, and part of our bed time routine is turning in phones to our room. We do not allow our kids to keep their phones or tablets in their room at night. Again, it may not be that I don’t trust my kids but that I don’t trust what they can find in the middle of the night. Phones and tablets are really nothing but a temptation or distraction at night for kids anway. Yes, they could listen to music, use it for an alarm or have it for the VERY rare case of an emergency, but the potential pit falls of having a phone in their room overnight is worth the complaining we get when they turn it in. On weekends we are more lenient with this because the 9 PM lights out is lifted, but for the most part this is an every night thing.
5. Plugged In for everything — We don’t approve the rental of a movie or the viewing of a movie for our kids until we have read the review on Plugged In or seen the movie ourself. On Plugged In you can read reviews from a Christian perspective for in theater movies, DVD’s, music, video games and TV shows. On the review it gives you a synopsis of the movie/program, then fills you in on the details of spiritual content, sexual content, violent content, drug/alcohol content, and exactly what curse words are used. It is a totally free and phenomenal tool at the hands of parents. Each show is rated by “plugs” for family friendliness. There have been a few occasions where something was rated “cleaner” than we thought it should of been after seeing it, or given a warning when we felt it was ok, but typically they are spot on. You should go read the Plugged In reviews for some movies you’ve watched recently. I think you would be shocked at how desensitized we can get about what’s in the entertainment we consume. You don’t even notice it is there until you read it on paper.
Except for very few occasions, we do not let our kids see PG-13 movies until they are 13, and even then, it’s not until we have either seen it ourselves or read the Plugged In review. My philosophy is, “If a secular world-view says that someone under 13 shouldn’t see this, what should my Biblical worldview say?” As our kids get older we loosen the reigns a little bit, and we always try to teach them WHY we are saying no. There have been times where we let them read the Plugged In review and asked, “Do you think we should allow you to watch that?” Except for just wanting to argue against us, most often they at least see why we are saying no. As of right now, the only R rated movie we have allowed any of our children to see is the Passion of the Christ. Our oldest is the only one to have seen it. And please hear me, this is not about being legalistic with a rating it’s about doing my job as the gate keeper in my home to protect the purity of my children. I’m not naive. I know I can’t protect them forever and I know that they have made their own choices that I don’t agree with when I am not there to make it for them, but that does not negate the fact that I will be held accountable to God alone for the things I choose to allow my children to digest mentally and spiritually. I take that responsibility very seriously. This one practice alone has come with pushback from family and friends in our lives who don’t understand why we are putting these safeguards in place, but I’m not accountable to them.
6. No social media — This is probably the hardest one right now for us. Our kids are 14, 12, 11 and 9. Except for the 9 year old, I would say that the majority of our kids’ classmates are on some form of social media. (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat are the biggest ones) As of right now, we do not allow our kids to have a social media account. (That doesn’t mean they haven’t opened them or use them without our permission) You’re supposed to be 13 to even open a Facebook or Instagram account, so any kids who are younger than that and have it either have a parent “sponsored” account or just put in a fake age. This is one of those luxuries I didn’t have as a kid. If I wanted to talk to a friend I used a phone that was connected to the wall. Outside of a phone or physically standing next to them, a hand written letter was the only other form of communication. Social media has changed the communication landscape forever and the kids of this generation are head long into it. I know we need to figure out a way to ease our children into managing a social media profile in a godly way, but right now we haven’t figured out how to best manage that tension so we are waiting to allow our kids to have it. On any device that our family owns, social media apps or outlets are not allowed for the kids. Outside of “everyone else has an account,” I don’t know of any good reason why our 11, 12 or 13 year old should have the potential pit falls that an open social media account offers. There are some great articles, blogs and resources out there that can help you as a parent navigate the ever changing dangers of social media with your kids. And this is free of charge, but Snapchat was #1 on a Fox News article about “5 dangerous apps you don’t know your kids are using.” You can check that out HERE. HERE is an article on Instagram and your kids.
Conclusion — I know that there are plenty of people who will totally disagree with our standards for our kids. Some people will say that this will cause them to rebel. (Believe me, rebellion is something that we are born with, not something that standards create) Others will say that we are prude, irrelevant and losing touch with reality. Some people might be downright mad with us, and that’s ok. I have been commissioned with the task of discipling four incredible children that belong to God first, me second and no one else. As long as they are under my home and my authority I take the responsibility to “train them up in the way they should go” VERY seriously! I know they don’t understand it now. I didn’t understand my parents when I was a kid, but I can tell you this: Even the standards that I did not carry into my own parenting, I am SO THANKFUL for having parents who held a high standard. Every movie I wasn’t able to watch and every activity I was not allowed to be a part in have molded me into the man I am today. I found myself involved in enough of the polluted entertainment this world has to offer even with my parents’ high standards, I can’t imagine what I would of ventured into if I had none! Jonah, Mariah, Makalah and Jaydah will develop their own standards one day. My prayer is that I will have taught them and trained them as best I can to have a Biblical worldview that leads to Biblical standards for living!