Culture of Death, motherhood, Parenting, Pornography, Sex, technology

Pornography, technology, and being the parent who says “no”

April 25, 2018

We had some sweet little friends over recently during a rare spring-like burst of warm weather and had the snacks flowing and the sprinkler turning in the backyard, and I had a very “I have become my mother” sort of interaction with one of my son’s buddies.

He had his “phone” with him – an old iPod or a very original iPhone, I’m not qualified to confirm which (though it looked more like a phone to me) and was asking for our wifi password to connect to the internet to play music videos off of Youtube.

“Sorry buddy, we don’t do screens without parents in our house.”

“But it’s just music, Miss Jenny (I don’t ask them to call me this, but it’s fairly adorable/extremely aging that they do).”

“Yeah bud, I trust you, but I don’t trust the internet. Here, I’ll pull up a Pandora station on my computer.”

He continued to fiddle with his device for a few more minutes until I had to gently lay down the law: “bud, you’ve got to turn that off and put it in your pocket, or else you need to take it home.”

Thankfully my kids are not old enough to be mortified by me yet, but I imagine at some point they will feel exactly the way I did when my mom poked her head into the family room and caught my girlfriends and me watching a “Sex in the City” VHS (Lolol) tape that we’d rented from Blockbuster for a sleepover one Saturday night.

“Girls, you’re better than this. This is garbage. You can’t watch this in our house.”

I eye-rolled her haaaaard (and also rebelled like a hellion in college), but my mom was right. And she wasn’t afraid of me – or of my friends – thinking that she wasn’t cool. She didn’t have any ego in her parenting as far as morality was concerned. If it was wrong, she let us know, and while there is room for improvement in everyone’s parenting decisions, this was one area that mine got pretty right.

The funny thing is, even though my parents were known to be less permissive than some of my friends’ parents, if only because they were more likely to be home and therefore less likely to let us host raging parties during their weekends away – my friends flocked to my house after school and on weekends, many of them specifically seeking out the counsel and friendship of my mom. Even though (maybe specifically because?) she often told us “no.”

Fast forward 20 years and I know that we are in the minority in our parenting choices where media and technology are concerned. Our kids don’t have iPads, they don’t have internet access without us peering over their shoulders, we don’t have cable, and we (try to) vet anything they watch on Netflix before they see it. Are we being overprotective? Hell yes we are. Will they someday have unbridled access to everything the www has to offer and go hog wild, glutting themselves on the raunchiest content available? Yes… and hopefully, no.

We’re trying to train them to make good choices in that realm, just like we’re coaching and micromanaging the things they eat, the time they spend on their homework, and the physical activity they get each day. I’m not planning to follow my 18 year old around checking his cell phone any more than I’ll be trying to sneak bites of broccoli into his pasta sauce at that point: the hope is that the training and coaching will have paid off by that point and he will be captain of his own ship. But between now and then, it is our job to teach, guide, coach, protect, and, frankly, look like a jerk in front of his buddies who have their own tablets.

He may never thank me for it, or he may look back in his early 30’s and be glad we tried our best. Either way, it is not my job to be his best friend. It is my job to help him become the best version of himself. And in 2018? That means being super, super cautious where the internet is concerned.

It isn’t a matter of if my kids will eventually see porn, it’s a matter of when. And it isn’t a matter of whether they see the darkest and most degrading, chauvinistic violence committed onscreen, but at what age they first encounter it. I’d just as soon they be twelve than seven, since by that point we will have had several dozen conversations about dignity, sexuality, abuse, consent, and addiction.

It’s not enough to say “well, it’s out there, we have to assume our kids are going to find it,” throwing our hands up in surrender. It *is* out there, and yes, our kids are going to find it. And it is up to us as parents to arm them with the training in virtue and common sense to do with it what they ought: identify it correctly as dehumanizing garbage and reject it as such.

Will they falter and fail? Almost certainly. Will they pick themselves back up again after they stumble, and have the courage to start fresh? That part is up to the grace of God and the best efforts of the adults in their lives to form them, pray for them, and model lives of repentance and virtue.

Our culture eats purity. It feasts on vice and mocks virtue, and signals to parents that any wild oats our kids may sow are simply inevitable stages in modern life. We are told our kids will – and, in fact, should – question the gender we “assigned” to them at birth. That pornography is healthy and normal. That sexual activity among preteens and even younger is only natural, and is best managed with a box of condoms, a scrip for hormonal birth control, and a well-supervised setting where they can experiment “safely.”

This is asinine and more – it is diabolical. We throw our children to the wolves and then we cry out in horror when they themselves become the wolves. We have to be the grown ups, and not to get too Daniel Tiger up in here, but groo-oohn-ups pro-tect.

And say no. And generally do things that make them super unpopular with kids, like withholding matches and credit cards and car keys and, yes, even technology, until and unless the child proves himself capable.

I’m already sweating over the inevitable “how to recognize pornography” talk with my seven-year-old, and came darn close to it last month when his kindergarten brother came home wide-eyed from a trip to the modern art museum and regaled the back seat with tales of “naked people” paintings. We had a decent conversation about the beauty of the human body and how there is a difference between “art” and “bad pictures” like someone might take with their phone and…we stopped there. On the one hand, I’m grateful for the anecdotal point of reference to be able to return to as the conversation continues over the years. On the other hand, I’m going to have 3 teenage boys in my house in less than a decade and come Lord Jesus, come.

What are your best practices for modeling – and expecting – good behavior with technology in your home? Are you already getting the eye rolls from your kids? Do you have good, open communication with their friends and have clear expectations for what flies in your house?

23 Comments

  • Reply Colleen Martin April 25, 2018 at 12:16 pm

    Having two teenage boys already in the house, and more to come (!) we try to stay super vigilant about tech use. The best thing we’ve found is get Covenant Eyes for our family – it’s on the laptop (necessary in high school), phones, all of our internet gadgets. It blocks them from sites and gives us a report each week of what questionable sites they are visiting (it’s normally YouTube videos that we have okayed). Obviously, no screens allowed in bedrooms or behind closed doors and lots of talks about the real dangers on the internet (it’s not just porn). It’s one of those “big kids, big problems” hurdles we all need to jump through and it’s completely daunting!

  • Reply Molly April 25, 2018 at 12:32 pm

    Yep, we’re the strict parents too. A coworker was telling me about how his 7 year old gets up early in the morning to sneak to the computer to watch Youtube videos! Just knowing what’s on youtube that makes my stomach twist (and we use Youtube, we just keep vetted things on a playlist that our sons knows he can watch and that he’s not allow to “browse”).

    We’re probably a bit more lax in some regards – we let our 7 year old play video/computer games (but with chatting features turned off and a parent has to be in the room), we even play Rock Band together on family nights and have (in my mind rediculous) number of Disney Infinity figurines. We Netflix/Prime only. The kids got a tablet for Christmas for a Grandparents but we sprung for a Parental Control app that controls access and time spent. We have a few games on our phones for the kids, but again the phones have parental locks, etc. And honestly after a month or two, it goes unused for most of the time except in little spurts.

    We’ll probably need to get a family computer in a year or two and have already talked about it being a desktop that will live in our many living area so there’s no using it when mom or dad can’t see it.

    I don’t mind being the strict parent in this regard at all and I’m glad we’re not a lone.

  • Reply Cecilia April 25, 2018 at 12:41 pm

    That my two sons, 17 and 15 years old, have three sisters is perhaps the best weapon against porn and abuse of women and girls that I have. Whenever there is a question of how to treat a woman, I ask my boys if they would want anyone to treat their sisters that way? They always answer “no” (vehemently, and usually followed by dire threats of what they will do to anyone who dares to try mistreating their sisters).

  • Reply Jennifer April 25, 2018 at 12:45 pm

    Yes to all of this! My oldest is 10, and we have pretty similar rules – they can’t watch anything on Netflix/computer that we haven’t approved, no screens in their bedrooms, etc. And they are good about asking if they want to watch something new. We do have a couple of old iPhones that we have set up like your young neighbor that they occasionally use to play games, etc. – but again, only those we’ve approved. When my son had a sleepover and a friend brought a phone, I took it away before my husband and I went to bed – never mind the eye rolls from my kids or their friends. My real conundrum now is about other people’s houses. I want my kids to be able to go to their friends’ houses, but sometimes those friends have phones and laptops, and their parents aren’t as vigilant as I am about knowing what they’re watching. Advice welcome on how to handle that!

  • Reply Becky April 25, 2018 at 2:05 pm

    Yep. To all of this.

    You’re probably familiar already, but we read the book, “Good Pictures, Bad Pictures” with the kiddos around 8 or 7 years old and its a good starting point for good conversations!

  • Reply Kathleen April 25, 2018 at 2:54 pm

    Jenny, I’m going to make myself a T-Shirt: “I’m not a regular mom, I’m a mean mom!” 🙂 But in all seriousness, this is great stuff. We’ve decided to draw a hard line (for now) on sleepovers. “Nothing good happens after midnight!” Plus with all the Virtus training we received through the diocese, I was convicted that right now my kids are too young to deal with any potential issues right now.

    • Reply Melissa April 25, 2018 at 3:51 pm

      This for us too. Our oldest is only 6 but we’ve also decided on no sleepovers. It isn’t an issue yet but I’m glad we’ve already made a deciesion on it so we can feel confident when it starts to come up. We also have no iPads and only let the kids have our phones with supervision. But the younger they are the easier it is. I know it will continue to get more difficult as they get older

      • Reply Genie April 25, 2018 at 7:49 pm

        I wasn’t allowed to go to sleepovers until I was 18, and my parents still called my friends’ parents to make sure they’d be home. I wasn’t allowed to drive to see my now-husband at college without my now in-laws, and as a commuter student at a large public state university, I never slept in a dorm. I’d like to think I turned out okay, married at 23 (just about to turn 25!) , a homeowner, and a teacher. Of course I thought at the time my parents were ridiculously strict, but they were absolutely right to be doing all of this, and I loved my childhood. I can’t imagine growing up with all of this technology from such a young age.

  • Reply Jenna April 26, 2018 at 2:15 am

    When I was in grade 10, I stayed home sick from school one day and ended up watching A&E for hours to entertain my bored mind. I watched a true-crime show about a man who lived such a flagrant life of sin — he hosted drug-soaked raves for a ‘living.’ So he was hooked on every drug imaginable, was an incredibly promiscuous gay man, and was getting other people hooked on drugs and promiscuity as a way of life. He ended up murdering his drug dealer in a truly heinous way and while completely high, admitted to his crime to a number of his friends.

    Anyway, the gruesome tale of this poor man’s life unravelling ended with him in prison, being interviewed for this show. Through tears, he told the camera “my whole life, I was waiting for someone to say ‘no’ to me. No one ever did, so I pushed myself further and further against what I knew was wrong until I ended up here. It was finally the law that said ‘no’ to me.”

    That comment, which I saw on this tv show almost 18 years ago has shook me ever since. And I fall back on it in my harder days of parenting my four kids — “my whole life, I was waiting for someone to say ‘no’ to me.” It’s these choices we make to draw a line in the sand for our kids that can literally save lives.

    • Reply Jenny Uebbing April 26, 2018 at 1:34 pm

      WOW. wow. Just…wow. What a powerful story and what a chilling and excellent reminder to fall back on as parents. Thank you!

  • Reply Leigh April 26, 2018 at 5:25 am

    I’m with you although mine are still a but smaller. But same question as Jennifer above – what about when your kids visit their friend with the iPhone? Are they allowed to? Do you have a chat with the parents?

    • Reply Jenny Uebbing April 26, 2018 at 1:35 pm

      You know, you raise a great point. We haven’t gone down that road yet because we are very, very particular about whose houses we let them visit. So far they have only spend time away from us in the homes of trusted family and friends who we know share our values about sex and technology, so we’re all on the same page with parental controls, devices, etc.

      The one exception we’ve just started to allow is the neighbors across the street (actually the little boy I mentioned in this piece) and we’ve been really explicit with our kids and with these kids that we don’t do screens at other people’s homes, period. So far they’ve only been over for 30 or 40 minutes at at time, and they’re usually running around playing laser tag or nerf wars. Since their friends have heard us drill over and over again about no screens, they don’t ask our kids to play video games or go on their tablets, and the mom is super respectful and texts/asks me before they move onto any new activity.

      As they age I suspect we’ll have to call ahead and ask the parents point blank: “Do your kids have a device in their room? Does your internet have a filter? Do you have parental controls on everything?” etc. Because we’re sending them to a Catholic school that is a technology free campus, we don’t have much of a problem at school, and many of their friends’ families are on the same page, so I know that helps tremendously.

      As much as I don’t feel equipped to homeschool, if we didn’t have the school (and the financial aid) that we do, I’d probably consider it, because our public schools are not great here…

  • Reply Ann-Marie April 26, 2018 at 11:47 am

    My oldest is only 8, but we’re already (constantly) having these conversations. When they are older, I totally see myself typing up and framing our rules – then hanging the, by the front door. I’ll brief anyone who comes over, and they can drop their phone in the lovely basket by the door.

  • Reply Michele April 26, 2018 at 12:06 pm

    Jenny. I have never commented, but Oh my gosh I love your blog and every time I read it I feel like we are just one in the same. I have been having the same issues and also feeling like my mom lately. we just had our 5th too. Thanks for being a light of encouragement for me and many. It’s hard work to be a present parent and not just give into the kids requests on the 1000th time they ask and stay strong in our beliefs bc we know it’s right. You are amazing and hilarious and I just love you!!

  • Reply elizabeth April 26, 2018 at 12:13 pm

    I don’t always agree with you but enjoy reading your blog. I’m not sure, but this may be the first time I have commented. I WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree with your approach on this issue and I sure wish more parents could understand what’s at stake here. People are so casual with letting their kids use the Internet unsupervised and for large amounts of time. And the “anything goes, you have to respect whatever people want to do” ethos of our current culture makes it super hard for parents who actually believe some things are WRONG. Huge applause for this post.

  • Reply elizabeth April 26, 2018 at 12:19 pm

    Oh, and my oldest is 13 and still does not have a phone or a tablet. She uses my computer and is restricted to a small number of sites. No YouTube unless I’m sitting there with her. She can’t take the computer to her room. Trust me, this is practically unheard of for a 7th grader. But she has tons of friends and is spared having to stress out about social media. There is still a big possibility she will be (or already has been) exposed to inappropriate stuff at other kids’ houses but I can’t control everything. I know all her friends’ parents though so I feel OK about things in general. For my younger kids they don’t clamor for the phone/internet because they haven’t grown up having that be a normal thing they do. When they get older it will be more of an issue but as I get older and see the damage this stuff does, it becomes way easier to feel solid and unconflicted about opting my kids out of social media and unsupervised or excessive screen time. No group texts for my kiddos, either. I have quite a few friends with kids in middle school who have told me their friends showed them porn on their phones on the bus, or whose kids are in a constant state of anxiety about social media posts and group texts. My kids go to a school which doesn’t allow students to bring any sort of device and that is another really important thing. In most public schools almost all kids have phones by middle school and they are generally allowed to have them and use them at school. It’s insane.

  • Reply Amanda April 26, 2018 at 12:55 pm

    Also, they’re not so much assigned that gender at birth, as, say, at conception. So many eye rolls for the mental gymnastics being a moral liberal requires.

    • Reply Jenny Uebbing April 26, 2018 at 1:39 pm

      But if they’re not fully human at conception, surely they can’t have an assigned gender yet 😉

  • Reply Cynthia S Coy April 26, 2018 at 2:26 pm

    Yes, we only watch youtube in the family room and I have to be able to hear what they’re watching. They don’t complain because I’ve already threatened to take it away FOREVER. Imagine the horror!

    Also, I need to read the below book. I just love Leila so I’m sure it’s a gem – I haven’t had time to read it yet.

    https://www.amazon.com/Raising-Chaste-Catholic-Men-Practical/dp/0997989300/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1524774278&sr=8-2&keywords=leila+miller&dpID=51aJhM8FQ-L&preST=_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

  • Reply Frances April 27, 2018 at 10:51 am

    My son is almost 18 and it has been a challenge finding the right balance between allowing him some screen exposure and having restrictions. He did not have any type of device until he got a flip phone at age 12 for safety purposes (due to some family drama – our family has been just him and me since then). He finally got a smart phone at 16 but many times I have wished I never gave in on that front. It is not just the overtly objectionable (p*rn) than I am concerned about but just the mind numbing, time wasting videos, games, chats, etc. I use Covenant Eyes on all our devices and currently he can’t install games, browse the internet or use Instagram on his phone. Even with that, sometimes Covenant Eyes just stops working and he can do anything on the phone until we do a restart. I got rid of the “free” tablet the phone service provider gave us. I have a rule of no phones or laptops in the bathroom, bedroom or basement. I take possession of his phone most nights. This is MY cellphone, not his, and I have the right to read any text, look at activity, etc. The only exception is a group chat he has with the teen Guy’s Group at our church where they share very personal prayer requests with accountability partners to help them with the constant struggle for mental, physical and spiritual purity (If you don’t have one at your church, you need one…) Until high school he did not have his own computer. It gets so much harder when they are older and have a laptop they carry around all the time. What is most important is the constant checking in. He is well aware of my concerns. The most important thing is that he knows I am looking, asking checking in, reading weekly Covenant Eyes report. I regularly ask him whether there is anything he needs me to do to help him with his battle for purity. As tough as it is for him sometimes, I am grateful that he is still willing to let me know about holes in the monitoring / restriction of various things. For example he was able to get unrestricted internet access on the PS4 due to some changes from software updates. When I found out what he was doing through this we had a tough talk but he ended by telling me how relieved he was that I finally knew. Despite the teen desire to break free of parental rules and control, in our deepest hearts we need the love of our parents to say no. Stay strong moms with your boys, and dads show your girls how women should be treated! Let us continue to pray for one another, with the intercession of St. Joseph, St Maria Goretti and Our Lady. We are not alone…….

  • Reply Jennifer April 30, 2018 at 9:35 am

    My boys are 14 and 12 now. We have restrictions similar to the ones you describe. I too worried that when they became teens we would have a lot of “eye rolls” and battles. But you know what? That hasn’t happened. They are used to the restrictions and know that they are in place for their safety and well-being. They even evangelize to their neighborhood friends about what is or isn’t “appropriate.”

  • Reply Liz S. May 1, 2018 at 3:29 am

    It can be very tiring to fight this battle for years…I have a 12 year old girl (my eldest) and she doesn’t have a smartphone, ipad, ipod, computer or any of her own technology…she is only allowed to use the home computer with internet (in our lounge where we can see what she’s doing) to help with homework…she thinks she’s been mistreated as she is the only one in her school basically without a smartphone (kids here have one since around the age of 9?). So for how long we are willing to keep this battle? I don’t know, but I guess as you say when we see that she is capable of making decent choices…

  • Reply Cassie May 1, 2018 at 8:15 am

    Love this article. We have 5 boys, 2 girls. Our oldest (boy) is 16 now. His computer is in our kitchen and we have K-9 protection on it. He has no cell phone – note that we homeschool. Once he starts driving, he’ll be getting a flip phone. TV is strictly monitored. We have no tablets, smart phones, video games, etc. We do not go to public swimming pools. My husband talks to them all the time about the dangers of our over-sexualized culture, the dangers of the media, averting their eyes, etc. He teaches the older boys about sex but the proper way – they aren’t learning from inappropriate sources. Sometimes, I think we are a little overboard but we were both a bit wild in our youth and exposed to a LOT prior to our “reversions”. This is not an easy world to raise children in. Way to go for being the “mean” mom and protecting your kids.

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