As societies across the globe become more and more accepting of immorality, it can sometimes feel like protecting our families from the onslaught of pornography is an insurmountable task. What can we do to stem the tide? As a parent, I worry about the risk that my own children will be exposed to pornography in spite of my efforts to protect them. As a bishop, I pray earnestly for the Youth in my ward (and around the world) to recognize the seriousness of the threat pornography presents to all of us individually and to our society collectively. I applaud Youth everywhere who resist the pull of pornography and find the strength to say “No!” when pornography knocks at their door, or worse yet, when it barges into their lives totally uninvited.
To protect ancient Nephite cities from invading enemy forces, Captain Moroni in the Book of Mormon took unprecedented steps to build fortifications and prepare the people “in a manner which never before had been known among the children of Lehi” (Alma 49:8). These preparations “astonished” the Nephites’ enemies (Alma 49:9) and prevented those enemies from infiltrating the protected areas. Faced with the unrelenting attack of pornography, shouldn’t parents respond with at least as much resolve? I am confident that as we take extraordinary steps to protect our families from pornography, our children—and their future spouses—will one day thank us for keeping them safe during an extremely impressionable period of their lives.
Here are 4 things I wish parents understood about their responsibility to protect their children from the plague of pornography:
1. Home computers are no longer the main source of pornography for youth or children.
In my parent’s generation, pornography was something generally accessible only in magazine shops and adult movie stores located far away from the areas in which they lived. Later, the internet allowed pornography into our homes through the family computer. In response to that unwelcome advance, Church leaders repeatedly gave counsel about keeping our family computers in open places and using effective filtering software on our home computers. That wise counsel still applies today. Parents who are not using parental controls or filtering software on their home computers and laptops are unwisely putting their children at risk.
Today, parents need to realize that with the proliferation of personal mobile devices (e.g., smart phones, tablets, iPods), these mobile devices have become ground zero in the fight against pornography. For one thing, those who are trapped by pornography usually feel they can more easily conceal their online behavior if they use a personal mobile device to access it. Further, because these devices are small and personal and mobile, the act of reading or viewing inappropriate content is easier to hide. Mobile devices can be fun and useful, including for studying the scriptures and doing family history research; but it is critical that parents understand what it takes to make mobile devices as safe as possible against pornography (see #3 below).
2. Social media apps are the great Trojan Horse in the battle against pornography.
Social media platforms (e.g., Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook) have become some of the most popular uses of the internet because they help us stay connected with friends and family—and even Church leaders—in ways that are fun and meaningful. For mobile devices, social media apps are especially popular. However, parents must understand that social media apps are also a Trojan Horse in the battle against pornography because they provide a virtually unlimited source of pornography to our children’s devices. An otherwise secure mobile device that does not have access to an unfiltered web browser or other unsafe apps can still be a danger to our children unless we take important precautions regarding how they use Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and other social media apps.
Most of these social media platforms officially claim to limit or block pornography, but the reality is they are unable and unwilling to monitor the enormous volume of content on their sites. The dangers for kids include that some well-known celebrities post profane and\or pornographic content on their social media profiles; these types of posts often appear in lists of the most popular posts of the day, which our kids can easily stumble onto. Other users deliberately make pornographic images easily searchable by including vulgar or pornographic hashtags with their postings of pornographic images and video clips. With just a few simple searches on social media apps, what was supposed to be a fun and innocent way of connecting with friends and family can become a clear and present danger to our kids. What is the solution? I don’t think removing all social media apps from our children’s devices is the answer; but I believe monitoring our children's social media usage and putting in place thoughtful limits are essential steps, as I explain below.
3. “Second only to your love, they need your limits.”
In a memorable talk in 2005, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland counseled parents that “second only to your love, [your children] need your limits.” I believe there is no area of their lives where our children need our limits more than in establishing safe and appropriate boundaries with respect to social media and media generally.
President J. Reuben Clark Jr. (1871–1961), a counselor in the First Presidency, once told a powerful story of the night his teenage daughter was leaving for a dance. “Have fun, my dear,” he said. “Be back by midnight.” She replied, “Daddy, this is the night of the prom. We go to the dance and are not back until early morning.” President Clark responded, “Yes, I know that is what many will be doing. But you must be back before midnight.” In desperation, she then said, “Daddy, you just don’t trust me!” To which he replied, “My dear, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, I don’t even trust myself. Be back by midnight.” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams, 1996, page 629)
I love the lesson President Clark illustrated with his story. Placing limits on our children is not related to a lack of trust in them. Instead, we are recognizing that limits can actually bless them and keep them safe. Some parents may ask, “If I have taught my children about the evils of pornography and the doctrines of true love and chastity, isn’t that enough to keep them safe?” My response is that unfortunately, it is usually not enough. Teaching doctrine is critical and essential, but even the strongest Youth in solid, gospel-centered homes need to have the practical limits in place.
Here are a few fundamental limits I suggest for keeping your children safe:
· Require children, including older teenage children, to turn in their mobile devices to parents nightly. Becoming tired late at night can impair anyone’s judgment—our kids are certainly no exception. Leaving them alone with their mobile devices during the night is a big mistake.
· Set a password that only parents know for built-in parental controls on mobile devices. Use these parental controls to restrict songs and books with explicit content and to set limits based on the ratings of apps, movies, and TV shows. I also strongly suggest you disable access to the (unfiltered) web browser that comes with iOS (i.e., Safari) or Android (i.e., Chrome) devices. Given the risks and temptations associated with mobile devices, a filtered internet browser (examples include Mobicip, K9, and others) is safer than the native browser app that comes installed on mobile devices. Using a filtered browser is often less convenient, but it is worth removing this source of unfiltered access to the internet on your child’s mobile device. Lastly, I suggest you use parental controls to disable access to the App Store or Google Play to prevent your child from wasting time perusing the App Store, where they will sometimes encounter inappropriate content and where other (unfiltered) web browsers could be downloaded or installed on their devices. If your children occasionally want to update their apps or download a new app, parents can help them do so.
· Use other apps to put limits in place. For example, Our Pact is a free iOS and Android app that links parents’ devices to their children’s mobile devices and then allows parents to turn off all non-native iPhone or Android apps during certain time intervals or at any given moment. In our home, we use Our Pact to turn off the apps on our children’s mobile devices during certain times of day and at night, or until they have finished their other responsibilities around the house. It is common for our kids to ask, “Dad, will you please turn my apps back on?” after they have finished homework or another task. These types of apps allow us to put practical limits on the access our children have to their mobile devices.
· Use hardware to help you in the fight against pornography. There are many hardware products you can buy to help filter internet content on your home Wi-Fi network. One solution that has worked very effectively in my family is called Circle©, which is now owned by Disney (www.meetcircle.com). I read about Circle in The Wall Street Journal several months ago and decided to give it a try. The price is $99. Circle is not a router; it is a hardware device that connects to your existing router and functions as a filter and a monitoring tool. Circle allows you to assign every device in your house that accesses the Wi-Fi network (e.g., desktop computers, laptops, iPods, iPads, iPhones) to a specific user profile for which you can set time limits and content limits. In our home, our children’s iPods or other devices are assigned to their profile; and my wife and I also have profiles for our computers and mobile devices. For any given profile, for example, you can completely block or limit access to social media apps for Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and others. Limiting the amount of time per day that children can access social media apps will protect them. Circle also blocks ads, adult content, and other inappropriate content, and it can be set to force safe searches on search engines and on YouTube. In addition, Circle logs a continuous history of each user’s actions across all devices on his\her profile, which makes it easy for parents to review their children’s online activities regularly. Although Circle currently works only when your family’s devices are connected to your home Wi-Fi network, the company will be releasing a new service to extend functionality to all your family’s devices regardless of what network they are connected to, including LTE networks. The key is to be very up front and tell your children that you will be using Circle (or other hardware) to monitor what they do online; that discussion alone prevents most issues that would ever come up.
4. Leaving the door of conversation wide open will make all the difference for your child.
If you haven’t discussed pornography with your children who are old enough to understand it, you need to have that talk now. The Church has produced an excellent video to help you with that talk. Above all, it is critical to let your kids know that they can come talk with you any time they feel they have concerns about pornography. Your children need to know they will not be condemned or criticized or punished if they approach you about being exposed to pornography. If they are intimidated or afraid of talking with you, they will not come to you when they need help. Open the door and welcome the conversation when it’s needed.
Do not get angry with your children if they confess challenges or struggles with pornography. Praise them for being willing to talk with you. Then use the opportunity to teach and set additional limits. Encourage youth age children who are struggling to seek help from the bishop. Check in regularly with your children and give them opportunities to discuss how things are going or any concerns they have regarding pornography. As the communication lines remain open, you will have the power to influence your children and steer them away from the harmful dangers of pornography.
Nate Sharp is an associate professor in the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University and currently serves as bishop of the College Station 3rd ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He grew up in Holladay, Utah, served a full-time mission for the Church in the Korea Seoul West mission from 1996-1998, and later graduated from Brigham Young University and the University of Texas at Austin. He married Holly Carroll in 2003, and they are the proud parents of five beautiful children.