Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, Culture of Death, motherhood, Parenting, Pornography, reality check, Sex, sin

Porn-proofing our kids: practical steps {2 in a series}

April 19, 2016

{Part 1 here}

(I want to start this piece with a plea to anyone who stumbled on this blog today, for however many seconds and from wherever in the world, because you googled “mama porn” or “mama with kids porno,” or “mom porn”… It happens more often than I care to think about, but I want you to know that you are loved, that you don’t have to fill your mind and your heart with trash, and that you were made for more. If you’re looking for help, try here first.)

The next big piece of the porn-proofing puzzle is actually putting some safeguards into place for the inevitable exposure to pornography.

Of course we’ll talk filtering software, parental controls, etc., but the bigger piece of the puzzle actually takes place internally, for the child whose will and mind and character are being formed and cultivated by loving parents and by humane, comprehensive education that respects and recognizes the whole person.

One of the best pieces of advice for parents about pornography that I’ve ever come across was written by another mommy blogger, and I can’t find the piece to link to it here, but this is a good approximation of what she was striving to teach her children.

In a nutshell, from a young age, help your children to recognize two things: 1. what pornography is and 2. why pornography is so sad.

For example, you’re shopping at Target (or wherever) and you come nose to nose with the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition in the checkout line. Now, I’m not so prude as to be scandalized by a mere bikini (though scandalous some may be) but the new thing is actually body paint. On bare skin. So even for SI swimsuit edition, swim suits need not apply. You calmly bend down and either flip the magazine or put a copy of Real Simple in front of it before explaining to your little person(s) “that’s pornography. And she needs privacy. Let’s say a quick prayer for her and for the person who took her picture.”

And for a little while, that might well be sufficient.

It’s critical to drill home these two truths: 1. identifying pornography for your children when you encounter it, and impressing upon them the sadness of it and 2. humanizing the woman (or man, but I’ve yet to see a copy of anything questionable in any retail outlet I frequent featuring man booty, so…) in question, and teaching your sons and daughters empathy for the great dignity of the Other.

When we demonstrate to our children what pornography is and what to do when one encounters it, we’ve already taken a huge first step, while holding their hand, which can help them along the path of virtue.

I’ve never been a big fan of modesty-via-shaming. It might make a point, but at what cost? It is possible that the first conversation we have with our children about pornography will come too late in the game for some of them. And by this I mean that they may already have been exposed to it, and may already be struggling with an addiction. While I pray that isn’t the case for my young brood, I do want to communicate to them my great love for them, as their mother, and our shared concern, as human beings, for the dignity of others.

Even magazine cover stars.

And even porn stars.

When my children are older, we’ll have more frank conversations about human trafficking and the sex trade, and what the insatiable global appetite for more and bigger and better and more violent content has created…but for now I want to impress upon them two things: that they are loved. And that “they” are loved.

And porn kills love.

It also kills brain cells and willpower. But before addiction and industry and commercialization and supply and demand, there are broken human persons being brokered for profit, sold into virtual slavery to ensnare others into a detached and depersonalized slavery.

And I want more for my children. And for yours, too.

So we teach love, first. Love for self, love for neighbor, and love for God. All of which can be demonstrated in a quick moment in the checkout line or on Youtube where we shut down the offending device, flip the degrading magazine cover, and have a frank and unemotional 20 second conversation about

what pornography is (violation of the dignity of the human person via immodest images),

why it’s wrong (this dehumanizes her, and you, and gives away too much of who she is),

and how we respond to it (with immediate aversion of our eyes/shutting down of the device and prayer, both for the person(s) we’ve seen and the way their dignity has been violated, and for the person who took their picture/created the content.)

Some additional practical steps are in order, of course, because while we can’t protect our kids from the world, we can keep the world at bay, to a certain extent, by putting boundaries into place that maintain the sanctity and safety of the home.

1. Do not give your child an internet-enabled device of their own. In my mind, this would be a person under the age of 13, a kid who shouldn’t be seeing PG-13 movies without a parent or guardian. That number seems reasonable to me, but again, my kids are young yet, so maybe I’ll be eating these words in a year or 4.

So maybe…

2. If total tech abstinence is too crazy for you, and you still want to gift your preteen a Kindle or a laptop for school use, then at least consider blocking it up and locking it down with some hardcore (pun intended) filtering software or app like Covenant Eyes, Circle by Disney, or a good old fashioned password (changed regularly by parents) on the home router. But even those measures aren’t fool proof. Basically, a motivated and tech-savvy teen (and which aren’t?) will find the content they’re looking for. Which is why we train and teach first, and block and filter second.

Because while all the filtering and blocking of offensive content in the world is great, it’s essential that our kids are emotionally, spiritually. and intellectually filled in, beforehand, on what porn is and why it’s harmful to them. Because if a kid wants to find porn, a kid is going to find porn. So that’s why I led with the teaching stuff.

I’ve worked out a sort of timeline in my head for what this is going to look like for our family, at least in theory. So here it goes:

Age 0-6: Teach basic Theology of the Body concepts, from birth. i.e. “You are a gift, made by Love and for Love.”  “Your body is like a love letter written by God, to the world, and you can know who God is and who you are through your body.” “You are fearfully and wonderfully made, and you have dignity.” “We cover up what is sacred because it’s holy, not because it’s yucky.”

Stuff like that.

(Also, we’re big on naming parts their real names. So, sorry about that, neighbors. I think I heard somewhere that teaching your 2 year old to yell “penis” makes them 100% more likely to get you side-eyed at neighborhood functions and supermarkets, and so far it’s working out great!)

Age 6-8: Basic instruction in sexuality and an introduction to the concept of pornography. i.e. “You are a boy, you were created to be a man, your masculinity is a gift to the world, and your body is capable of caring for and protecting others.” “You are a girl, you will be a woman some day, you are created to give of yourself in an incredibly complex and unique way that is beautiful and capable of creating new life.” “That’s pornography. She needs privacy. Pornography shows us parts of other people we don’t have the right to see. We need to pray for him/her, and for the people who create the product of pornography” “Pornography is created to trick your brain into wanting something that will hurt it/to make money from hurting people”

Age 8+ I bought the book “Good Pictures, Bad Pictures” last month after hearing great reviews from a lot of more seasoned parents, and it does a fantastic job of explaining the addictive and scientific properties of porn addiction, without being overwhelming, boring, or overly frank. It’s written from a totally secular perspective, so I can’t imagine any parent would struggle with implementing it in their own home. I haven’t read it with my oldest son yet, because 5.5 seems a little young still, but I’m planning to sit down with him and start working through it in the next year or so. My vision for ongoing instruction here hinges on endlessly open communication and talking, talking, talking about what you’re seeing when you’re out with your kids, what crazy commercials pop up while you’re watching the game together, and what trashy pop ups are crowding the Youtube sidebar while you’re trying to show your 2 year old a video about honey badgers (Evie badger does.not.care.,proving my point that she is one. But I digress.)

Whew. Since this is getting longish, I’ll wrap things up here, but stay tuned for part 3 where we’ll discuss strategies and resources for talking porn with your tweens and preteens, and how to get help for kids (or parents) who are already struggling with an addiction to pornography.

St. John Paul II, pray for us.

porn proof

{Part 1}

23 Comments

  • Reply Tanya April 20, 2016 at 11:32 am

    A great post and an important topic- one which I will be writing about soon because I have a lot to say. Kudos to you for getting the conversation started.

  • Reply Laura April 20, 2016 at 12:37 pm

    Thanks for addressing this, Jenny! A suggestion I have for the blocking part: if you use Chrome as your browser, you can easily install the “AdBlock” extension which blocks all ads. I’m not a parent, so I did it for myself, not even for little kids. But I can imagine it would be really helpful for families. It even blocks YouTube ads, pop-ups, and everything except things like embedded ads on blogs. You can also use “Safe Search” for Google, which is helpful, because indecent pictures have come up there for me. Thanks for helping parents talk to their kids about this!

  • Reply Mary wilkerson April 20, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    Great stuff Jenny!
    Two things to add to the discussion. At the talks I give on media I always ask teens “how many of your parents have blocks or filters?” Because it’s usually a Catholic setting I would say 60% of kids do. Then I ask “how many of you know how to get around them?” And 99% if not all of the kids raise their hands. Filtering stuff tries And maybe has a place, but far more important is ALWAYS keeping internet enabled devices in a central location in your home. Always. Including smart phones. That would help avoid so much.

    Also, for me, the much greater threat is the screen rules other people have for their children. Which is why my kids are taught at very young ages that they are not allowed to look at other people (even family members) screens and why I have every intention of having hard conversations with family/parents of my children’s friends when they do play dates etc… My kids are still at an age where me telling them they can’t look at phones/screens of others is effective- so I constantly drill it into them. Only mama and daddy’s screens.

    And we are crazy not anti technology. My kids are already fluent in the language of social media- but with my guidance.

  • Reply jeanette April 20, 2016 at 2:02 pm

    I raised my kids at home BEFORE they were exposed to the internet in college, when it really started to unfold for them. Parents now know their challenge and should be grateful for the heads up! The kinds of ideas you present here are very smart to follow. I especially like the suggestion to pray with your child for the person who has been victimized as the model as well as the photographer.

    Porn can pop up in the most unexpected ways, even pre-internet days. I was a teen who did babysitting. I was asked to babysit by my neighbors across the street. They had a preschool boy and infant girl. They seemed like a nice, ordinary couple. So, my first visit to their home (I was about 14), I would not have expected this, but at some point during the evening I sat down in a chair in their living room and I suddenly noticed an OVERFLOWING stack of pornographic magazines on the floor. It was ridiculously overflowing. So I took a newspaper and covered over that stack. I could not believe it. My opinion of that husband changed immediately. You know, the warning flags go off in your head that this is someone whom I could not trust. I didn’t babysit for them anymore.

    When my son headed off to Iraq, he was going to leave his laptop for his sister who would soon be headed off to college. So, I looked at what software was loaded on the computer, and saw several files with porn titles. I questioned him about it and he said someone else was using his computer on base and must have done that. So, in my final goodbye to my son as he headed off to war, I had to have a word with him about the problem with porn, a discussion I didn’t think I needed to have at that point in his life. But it ended up being part of the things I said to him that night before he departed. So, even if you think you got it across to your kids, it doesn’t mean it won’t crop up again. The culture has its own story for your kid, and it has an alternative post-script to everything you thought you taught them about life.

    Bottom line, you can make your own home porn-free, but not the world outside your home. So, as you say in this blog, it has to be internalized what to do when you encounter it and why. As a priest friend told me, you can only lay the foundation.

  • Reply Erin April 20, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    We use Zoodles on our kids-allowed tablet. We used the free version for a long time until we subscribed to the paid ($30/year) upgrade so I could set screen time limits for each child. Basically, you choose which apps each child will have access to in the app manager, and once you put the tablet in “kid mode” it requires a password to exit into full functionality.

  • Reply Kelsey April 20, 2016 at 7:08 pm

    I’m curious if you have any suggestions or resources for your 0-6 age range? I just can’t seem to come up with the eloquently worded expressions or phrases on the spot. I want to be able to simply communicate the basic TOB concepts for that age range, but I think I need for material to draw from.

  • Reply LG April 20, 2016 at 8:09 pm

    Jenny, We raised our kids in the 80’s and 90’s- not a time notable for purity in the media even then, but of course nothing like now. We never discussed porn at all, nor did we ever see a whisper of unchastity in either our son or daughter then or ever. They are both strong practicing Catholic even now in their mid-thirties.

    A couple of things, first of all. I am really amazed that you wrote, ” 1. Do not give your child an internet-enabled device of their own. In my mind, this would be a person under the age of 13, a kid who shouldn’t be seeing PG-13 movies without a parent or guardian.” 13 is typically when puberty sets in for a boy, and handing him such a device just at that time would be a recipe for disaster in my opinion.. My young teenager would not have an internet enabled device at all, not till he was 18 or 19 and his mind and will well formed.

    Regarding talks about pornography, I think Scripture offers a better strategy: “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints” (Ephesians 5:3). It’s the old problem of forbidden fruit. Also, the psychology goes like this, “Don’t think pink. What are you thinking? Pink, obviously.” As soon as you say, don’t look at x, the appetite is whetted. “Wait, what is she talking about? What’s the problem really?” Like Adam and Eve, we want the knowledge of good and evil. Once curiosity is aroused, it will be satisfied.

    So then, what to do? If we had young children in the house, the computer would be in the master bedroom in its own special closet, locked. And as parents we would only be in that closet to pay bills, check our email, and other quick tasks. I am perfectly serious. Having it in the family room sounds smart, since looking at or for pornography would be impossible . . . unless, of course Mom has to make a trip to the grocery store, or is folding the laundry in the basement, or is asleep.

    The kids would not go to a school where laptops were required. If all the local schools required laptops, our kids would be home-schooled.

    I am very familiar with all the arguments about hiding our heads in the sand, over protecting our kids, etc. Protecting their children from evil is one of the primary duty of parents. Certainly we have no moral obligation to expose them to it. They would not be going with us into stores where they would see pornography at all.

    Of course, such a program can only be carried so far. How far? Until the kids have developed a strong moral sense, have an imagination steeped in the lives and the lore of the saints, and can sense evil as soon as it raises its head, and know what to do about it.

    While they are being formed they both need and deserve to be well sheltered from evil influence.

    In the case of both our children, they toured Europe separately with their friends when they were 17. They were ready for it. They had prayer lives. They were well formed doctrinally. They frequented the sacraments.

    While evil should be avoided at great length, avoided to extraordinary lengths, the real emphasis should be on the positive, especially the lives of the saints but also “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. ” If we had a TV, there would be no connecting it to the outside, but it would only be capable of showing dvds. There are a ton of unobjectionable movies and videos from the past that would permit us to have a very rich entertainment life on weekends, and would raise the kids taste at the same time.

    Well, I could go on. Long and short, my porn filter would be not to have any device that needs a filter in the house at all, except as I say in the master bedroom, in the closet, and even that would have a filter..

    • Reply Jenny Uebbing April 21, 2016 at 10:16 am

      great, great points. I guess I was thinking of a laptop for school or a Kindle for reading, not a smartphone or a personal computer just because it’s what everyone else has. You’re absolutely right about keeping computers in public places and having good boundaries on screen time. I do want to teach our kids how to interact appropriately with screens, since they are everywhere, and for us that means teaching them how to look away/shut it down/tell us when they see something at the gym kid’s club or on the school bus or even sitting in a waiting room watching another kid play games on their iPad (happened last week.) So while we plan to have a really limited screen life in our own home (we have no cable and a single tv that comes up from the basement during Broncos games and for family movie night), and while our kids do in fact attend a screen free classical school, I know it’s also on us to teach them how to use them the right way, because they will be around them constantly once they’re out in the world.

    • Reply jeanette April 21, 2016 at 6:14 pm

      It is most definitely a duty of parents to shield the innocence of their children. But, children have to eventually enter into the world at large and need to know how to respond to what they will be confronted with rather than being sucked into it. Innocence can sometimes be a disadvantage. One can think of our Lord’s words in MT 10:16: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.” Remember, too, it doesn’t mean a child was not properly formed if they fall; it means that Satan is alive and well in laying snares to tempt and trip them up. Having courage to turn back to God and start over again is every bit as important as being formed in conscience, especially in the teen and young adult years. Hence, the sacrament of confession should be a very significant part of their lives, and it has to be a deeply experienced sacrament, a habit formed by a contrite heart, not a mere routine. One deep lament of a priest from one of my parishes was that parents were failing in their duty to bring their children to the sacrament of confession.

  • Reply Patty April 20, 2016 at 8:20 pm

    YES Porn KILLS love. This evil, sickening addiction is one of the things that led to the end of my marriage. Not having children my perspective is different, and because of what I lived has radically opened my eyes to see the grave reasons the Church needs to help speak to this addiction and help bring healing into lives. My former husband was exposed to it at slumber parties at 10 along with other sexual behaviors.
    I find much more compassion to those who trapped and struggle in this way, but know it cannot be tolerated in any way. It is a destructive virus.

    • Reply Jenny Uebbing April 21, 2016 at 10:12 am

      Thank you for your witness, Patty. I am so sorry you experienced it firsthand. I dated plenty of guys in college who had serious porn addictions (and I struggled in that area myself for a time) and I have no doubt that if they haven’t sought healing and freedom, they surely carried the pain and the destructive consequences of that into their own marriages.

  • Reply David April 21, 2016 at 1:26 am

    Alright, I’m seeing a lot of comments from women on here, so I’m going to chime in as a 20-something (Catholic) male: If you want your teenage sons (and daughters, but let’s be honest, you need to be WAY more worried about the boys) to not see pornography, you need to keep all screens in public places. Period. TVs, computers, smartphones, whatever device will be marketed 10 years from now–all of them. Probably best not to have any portable, Internet-capable electronics in the house at all, actually; my parents gave us old cell phones with the ability to call and text but not view images or access the Internet once we entered high school, and we had one family TV and one family computer in central rooms, the doors of which had to be kept open at all times. As a result of all this, I actually wasn’t exposed to pornography until college; many of my male peers were not exposed to such strict measures and were exposed to pornography earlier in their lives.

    • Reply Jenny Uebbing April 21, 2016 at 10:09 am

      LOVE this. Love. Taking it to heart and implementing it in our home. Thank you for chiming in, really, really grateful to have an honest male perspective on this!

    • Reply LG April 21, 2016 at 12:31 pm

      David,

      Great post! And a wonderful testimony to the wisdom of your parents.

      As you know, here is a counsel of despair about all this business that goes like this: “It does not matter what we do to protect our kids in our own home, because they are going to encounter it elsewhere, possibly in the home of their friends, etc., etc.. ”

      Yet this is not true! If you do ALL, God will do ALL. If not, not Your parents did ALL they could and now in your twenties you can bear witness that you did not encounter pornography until you went to college. What a blessing! You do not say, but I would guess that when you did encounter it, it did not overwhelm you, for you had been well-formed by your parents. Am I right?

      If you were able to stand up to it, I would be interested to know what aspects of your formation or of your own discipline contributed to your victory…other than what you have already told us.

  • Reply Kaitlin @ More Like Mary April 21, 2016 at 10:42 am

    Jenny thank you for this! I especially love that you told us, word for word, what you say to your young kiddos when you see pornography out in public. That is very helpful and I’m going to use those same words. Many time I’ve covered the screen while waiting for the ad before the YouTube video to play and my kids wonder what I’m doing. I realized reading this that I wasn’t taking the opportunity to educate them in that moment, just shielding them from it. Thanks for giving me the courage to turn those into teachable moments.

    One question for you (or anyone else with experience): my oldest is only five and has not started to notice the magazines, the ads, etc. Would you wait until she actually notices them to make a comment, thus preserving her innocence as long as possible? Or would you actually point it out to her preemptively? I hate to draw her attention to evil if she’s still blissfully oblivious of it.

    And I work part-time in a K-12 school and am HORRIFIED by how many students have smartphones and how often they are using them. In between classes they walk like zombies through the halls, staring at their screens. At lunch everyone has a phone on the table next to their food. Middle schoolers stand in circles passing phones around showing each other who-knows-what! And while I cannot KNOW that any of them are viewing porn, the statistics seem to suggest it’s very likely. We’re letting our middle and high schoolers consume pornography AT SCHOOL!!! In the presence of elementary students!

    • Reply jeanette April 21, 2016 at 6:25 pm

      For small children you never need to expose them unnecessarily. If they encounter something and ask questions it is equally important to respond, but only at the level that they need to know. In other words, satisfy their question with simplicity appropriate to their age, don’t pour out too much information which they cannot readily digest. A child will ordinarily ask further questions if you haven’t sufficiently answered their question and sense that you are open to discussion. If you observe a young child viewing something inappropriate with interest, but they don’t ask questions, you might acknowledge it as inappropriate and briefly state why. Showing a willingness to talk opens the door later on.

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  • Reply Allison April 25, 2016 at 12:37 pm

    Also, we don’t let our kids go to sleepovers for this and many other reasons. No personal internet devices until college here too.

  • Reply Helen April 26, 2016 at 6:32 am

    Excellent advice, thank you Jenny! My children are young too, and we also pray for the women (it’s always women…) on the front covers of magazines, and the photographers, and often place something nicer on top to cover up her dignity.

    Another ‘filter’ idea: pray for purity to Our Lady! Every morning and night our family pray a prayer of purity together. It consists of three Hail Mary’s and then the prayer: “By thy Immaculate Conception O Mary, make my body pure and my soul holy, my mother preserve me always from mortal sin.”

    I started praying this prayer in my late teens when I attended a Redemptorist mission. The visiting priest told the parishioners of this prayer, recounting the story of an elderly gentleman who he knew who had said it since childhood and had never committed a mortal sin.

    Our culture is so hostile to purity that we need all the spiritual help we can get!

    God bless.

  • Reply Greg April 27, 2016 at 6:08 pm

    Cleanrouter.com filters internet where it enters your home. Protects all devices that use your connection effectively and relatively cheaply. To protect phones and tablets that use internet connections outside your home, get netnanny or covenant eyes.

  • Reply Kelsie July 16, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    I know this is an old post, but if any parent is still operating under the assumption that if they just do all the right things they will be able to delay their children’s first exposure to pornography they need to pull their heads out of the sand. A grade 1 class at my children’s school was exposed to hardcore pornography via the school’s iPads. There was a mistake made at the district level with the firewall settings and an unidentified previous user had accessed pornography which then popped up when a child went to use the browser. Talk about porn with your kids and how to react and why because they need more than protection; they also need tools. I personally have instructed my children’s teachers that my kids are no longer allowed to use the computers, but next year my son is in Grade 4 and may need to for his school work so that may have to change too.

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