You and I are sitting in my office to work through a situation you are facing. You recently discovered your child has been viewing pornography online and sexting (sending or receiving sexually explicit photographs or messages via cell phone). You are surprised, crushed, angry, ashamed, disappointed, and wondering where you went wrong in your parenting. You want to see the behavior stop, but you also want to see your child properly equipped to make better choices in the future. Boarding school and military academy are definitely on the table, but you're not sure if that is merely your own shame speaking. You are wondering how you are going to sneak through Save Mart and be at Little League practice without having to talk to anyone who might already have heard. Beyond that, you are scared out of your mind because your child's actions can be construed legally under charges of child pornography.
Maybe this is your story, or maybe this is the story of someone you know well. More and more, situations like this are becoming the norm. We feel ill-equipped to deal with these situations because times were different when we were growing up and we know our kids will always be ahead of us technologically anyway. So, short of heading to the hills and going off-grid, how do we raise our kids in the Smartphone Revolution? While I can't solve the problem in 500-words or less, I can point to two mountains I see we must traverse in order to win in the long run- Accessibility and Authenticity.
As I look at the Mountain of Accessibility I see a few things we must confront on the horizon. First, no generation before has had accessibility to pornography in their pocket at the rate our generations have today. What used to be covered on the magazine rack and behind the "Adult Movies" curtain is now in the pocket of anyone with access to the internet on a smartphone. Do we realize the accessibility we grant our children because "everyone else has one too." Second, what used to be hidden in closets and under mattresses is now accessible in every room of the house, every campus, and every neighborhood- often times discreetly hidden behind passwords and apps designed to hide information. Finally, do we realize the accessibility we grant strangers to our children when we "add a line for only $10 a month"? As much as smartphones and apps are innocent in their own rite, app developers, predators, and industries often seek to "kill, steal, and destroy" (Jn 10:10). To tread the Mountain of Accessibility, we must determine how to address the multiple doors of accessibility.
The Mountain of Authenticity is quite a slippery slope. Along its path are questions about the authenticity and honesty of the communication we have FROM our children. On the other side of the mountain is the question of how authentically and honestly we relate TO our own children. While our kids' friends may be a negative influence, leading our children into dark and dangerous territory, our own behaviors, practices, and boundaries often communicate much more loudly. Time and again I discover hypocrisy in what parents expect from their children and what they allow for themselves. For a husband or wife, this might mean requiring your kids to give you all of their passwords, but leading the example by giving all your passwords to your spouse. Authenticity demands that we navigate well the same circumstances our children face by the same standards we expect from them. This may not solve our problem, but the modeling will go a lot further than our words alone ever will.
Deuteronomy 6:7-9 says, “Repeat [the Lord's commands] again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” I wonder if we shouldn't put our own devices down and lead our children well through Mt. Accessibility and Mt. Authenticity of the Smartphone Revolution by carefully discerning what pleases the Lord, modeling what pleases the Lord, and discussing it again and again with our kids wherever we go. This may require more than the 140 characters that Twitter allows.
One great website for additional resourcing and tools is www.xxxchurch.com. They have a great blog archive on numerous topics. They also have great resources, like x3watch, an app for accountability around Internet usage.
In the comments below, please share sites and resources you have discovered or used.
Here are a few direct links to articles I have found.
Dangerous Apps: http://www.foreverymom.com/parents-kids-10-dangerous-apps-time-hit-delete/
Smartphones and Kids: http://www.xxxchurch.com/parents/4-reasons-give-iphone-child.html
Teen Caught Sexting: http://www.xxxchurch.com/thehaps/my-teenager-is-making-porn-uh-now-what.html
Home Internet Boundaries Tool: https://meetcircle.com (I have no experience with this device, but it sounds like it could be very helpful)
A Mom's Story about Her Daughter Being Blackmailed into Sexting: http://www.foreverymom.com/my-12-year-old-was-blackmailed-for-nude-photos/