Porn is not harmless. Social media can be a minefield. And the internet can suck productive time away and cause us to miss out on important parts of our lives.
That’s why I believe parents have to get a handle on their kids’ internet usage, and why I firmly believe in having some sort of internet filtering.
However, today I’m a little preoccupied with my new grandbaby (!), so I asked Joanna, who works with me, to write up her ideas for keeping kids safe on the internet. She’s a young mom married to a techie husband with some great ideas to help you and your family navigate these difficult waters.
This post contains affiliate links.
I was born in 1990 and I had my first video game when I was a preschooler.
It was a coloring program and I loved filling everything in with my two favorite colors: baby pink and periwinkle blue. What makes me laugh today? That game was on a floppy disk. We unplugged our phone line when I was in elementary school to connect to the internet and I remember debating my friends about which search engine was better. I now have to capitulate to Zach that he was right: Google reigns supreme.
Today’s kids are growing up in a completely different world.
Most children have tablets of their own before they hit school age and instead of the benign coloring game of my youth, today’s games are optimized to create addictive or compulsive behavior and to take advantage of the wiring of kid’s brains. But it’s not all bad. My daughter (who is 19 months) FaceTimes with her grandparents most days, which allows her to have meaningful relationships with our family who are far away. When my grandmother moved away from her own mom when she had little ones, they weren’t even able to call each other on the phone – they sat and had coffee at the same time in their different cities and knew they were together in spirit. Technology allows my mom and me to sit and chat over coffee from across an international border and I am so grateful for that.
Parenting in today’s complex, totally connected world requires holding two things in tension: protecting vulnerable kids while increasing resilience. Research shows that not allowing children to have spaces to take risks, fail, and try again is bad for emotional development. But also I’m terrified of being remiss and having something horrible happen, or having my daughter be taken advantage of by someone who doesn’t have her best interest at heart.
Take the “bronie” subculture that has infiltrated kid’s cartoons and has created spaces that are unsafe for our children. There is an internet saying that, “if it exists, there is porn of it” and, unfortunately, it is true, even for kids’ media. A child searching for a favorite my little pony character on google may stumble upon very adult depictions of that same character. Many of the showrunners who are currently working in children’s animation got their start creating pornographic or semi-pornographic images of cartoon characters for adult enjoyment. All of this is terrifying for me as a young mom. I want my daughter to be able to look up a my little pony, without seeing one pole dancing. (Wish I was joking here.)
And then there’s all the research coming out about how early porn use and porn exposure affects kids long-term. Authorities recently busted several hundred people in the largest child pornography sting to date, and most were white-collar workers in their 20s in Korea, who had never been in a relationship. But they had been hooked on porn since they were young teens. And boys are not the only ones who use porn. Teenage girls are increasingly at risk of developing a porn addiction, too.
It’s really easy to read this kind of stuff and think, “alright then, back to 1855 for us. Let’s go live without internet and see how that serves us.” But that’s totally impractical for one – I don’t have a time machine – and it also throws away all of the benefits of technology.
Right now, I can choose what media I allow my daughter to consume. But my days of having complete control are going to go away.
I am absolutely all for allowing her to have appropriate guard rails at our home so that she is safe when using technology. We’ll come up with screen time limits that work for our family as our daughter grows while also allowing her to enjoy the many wonderful things that come along with screens. For example, I definitely want to teach her to code! Being a woman who codes is one of the great pleasures of my professional life, for whatever reason, and I want her to feel the rush of capability that comes with getting a file to execute. (/overlyexcitedrant).
One of the tricky parts of parenting today is the necessity of putting parental controls on kids’ devices.
The world really is out to get our kids and online communities are often unsafe for children. But there’s a fine line between parental controls and spying and these are difficult waters for both kids and parents. I think knowing your child, having a track record of trust, and keeping conversation going are incredibly important as we navigate these difficult waters.
Regardless of what features you decide are important for your family in particular, it’s important to have some sort of filtering software in your home to protect your kids and put up guard rails to keep the benefits of technology while doing away with a lot of the dangers. If you’ve been around the blog for awhile, you’re probably aware of our deep and abiding love for Covenant Eyes, an internet filtering and porn prevention service. But recently, Sheila and Tammy discovered Qustodio, which is a parental control service and internet filtering service that we also want to tell you about.
First of all: here’s a comparison of the features for each one!
Yes, with specific focus on blocking adult websites
Yes, with panic button included on android
No reports sent, but browser history is available, including youtube search history and Facebook usage reports
Updates and reports sent to accountability partner or parent
Screen Time Limits
Yes, including limits per user across devices
Prevent Apps from Opening at Certain Times of Day
Yes, including limits per user across devices
Yes, call and text tracking is included
Number of Devices Supported
Various price points support up to 5, 10, and 15 devices
Unlimited, up to 10 users
Why you might be a Qustodio household
I was really excited when Sheila and Tammy recently told me about Qustodio. They offer web filtering, location tracking (so that you can see where the device is–and where your child is), technology usage limits, social media tracking, and allows all of that to be done across devices. It’s a great service and has won PC magazine’s editor’s choice award for its customization, ease of use, and versatility.
Honestly, as an adult I love so much of this, too. If I could give myself a 20 minute limit on certain sites a day, then I likely wouldn’t waste so much time! And if you could shut down your kids’ access to the internet at 10:30 pm, for instance, I bet a lot of porn use would disappear.
Qustodio offers a fuller range of services but does not include pornography controls specifically. It will filter the web, but does not include a report specifically geared towards porn, like Covenant Eyes. For families for whom porn addiction is not a current problem, Qustodio offers web filtering and a variety of other controls that are easy to use and practical.
Pricing for Qustodio is $54.95 annually to cover 5 devices, $96.95 annually to cover 10, and $137.95 to cover 15. Use code QUST10 for 10% off your order AND they offer a free 3 day trial so you can give it a try before committing. Check it out now!
Why you might be a Covenant eyes household
Covenant Eyes is amazing at blocking pornography. It also has great filtering technology, blocks adult websites, and sends screenshots of blurred out images to an accountability partner. It also sends updates and reports to that partner. It’s an amazing option for those who are dealing with pornography as it is hard to work around and includes a lot of safe guards. While it would certainly work for families, it doesn’t offer the range of options that Qustodio does. However, it can be used with an unlimited number of devices and up to 10 users for $183.99 annually. If you’re dealing with a porn problem in your home – Covenant Eyes is for you! Use the code TLHV to get your first 30 days free.
What are your rules for screen time with kids? How have you navigated these difficult waters? Let me know in the comments!