parenting

The Danger Your Kids Need You Notice

by Courtney Hollingsworth, LPC

We protect our kids from germs, strangers, bullies, curse words, sunburns, violent movies, car accidents, trips and falls, traumatic news stories, mosquitos, too much sugar, a chill in the air. We go to great lengths to keep them safe. And yet many of us are overlooking an ever present danger. In fact, we are handing it to them.

Would you let your kid wander around an adult video or book store? Of course not! The impact could cause a great deal of harm to such a young, impressionable mind. It certainly would not be the way you’d like your child introduced to sexuality or be educated on what mature naked bodies look like or on how babies are made.

That is essentially what you are doing when you give your child a phone, tablet, or any other device that has access to a search engine without any filters or parental controls.

You may think this is an exaggeration, and perhaps it is, though not a big one. The generation raising kids at this moment in history did not grow up with the world at our fingertips, which is quite literally the reality for kids today. With a few simple taps of their fingers kids can see images, videos, and words of pretty much anything in the world. Anything. And kids know it. Curious about something? Overhear other kids talking about something you don’t know about? Have a question you don’t want to ask an adult? Google it! Kids are curious by nature and they have easy and immediate access to more information than probably all the generations before them combined!

 Unlike the web search history on a browser, you cannot erase the images from your child’s mind they will readily find.

The vast amount of sexual material readily available on the internet is astounding. Kids are more and more, younger and younger, stumbling across pornography without even know what it is. They simply take their curiosity to the place they’ve already learned holds all the answers, the internet. Unfortunately, the internet does not provide child appropriate, parent approved, or even accurate images and information for their curiosity.

If you wait until your child comes to you asking about sex, pornography, girls and boys kissing, girls and girls kissing, boys and boys kissing, where babies come from, the sexual anatomy of the opposite sex, or any other sexually related thing they may be curious about or have overheard, it will be too late. If you wait until you catch them looking at sexually explicit images or videos on the internet, it is too late. Talk to them BEFORE this happens. Add filters and parental controls BEFORE this happens. Protect your kids from the stuff that isn’t good for them BEFORE they find it without even knowing what they’re doing.

The next blog will introduce some resources that might be helpful with regards to these topics.

 

 

When We Lie to Our Kids

by Courtney Hollingsworth, LPC

There are many reasons why adults lie to kids. Kids are gullible. It’s in their best interest. It’s to protect them. They wouldn’t understand the truth. It’s easier. It’s just a little white lie.

Once you begin to erode your kid’s trust in your word, it’s a very slippery slope.

One that is much more difficult to climb back up than the discomfort or inconvenience that sometimes accompanies telling the truth. Even “small” lies can cause severe damage. A tornado can destroy a house, but so can termites.

Here’s the truth: Kids know. Maybe not every time. Maybe not very early on. But soon enough, they know more than we adults realize, and by the time we do, we’ve already damaged their trust in us. Researchers at MIT have confirmed this truth. Think about when you were a kid and you were internally questioning something an adult told you. I bet a specific scenario or a specific person readily popped into your head.

Kids inherently and subconsciously know they are dependent on adults to survive. This is why a child going out the front door and walking wherever they please is a rare event. It is what causes that brief panic in a store when a kid feels lost. Many children are not even willing to go into the basement alone. Their security is in their attachment to a more competent and trustworthy individual, an adult, because of their inherent knowledge that they are not competent to care for themselves in this world. There is a very healthy importance to this attachment, and in order for it to be healthy, it has to be one they can depend on. Lying and withholding information causes deep fractures to the security of this bond. More simply, it causes deep hurt to our children.

When kids are lied to, not only do they begin to question their trust in the person who’s lying, they also learn to mistrust themselves. When what they know or feel is true is being redefined for them as not true, they are learning self-doubt and a mistrust of the world. When a kid is told that what they know is true, is untrue, they are learning that they can’t trust themselves. This makes them susceptible to bullying, mean friends, sexual abuse, manipulation, abusive dating partners, and the list goes on.

So while a little white lie can feel harmless, it has the power to do far more damage than the truth.

Kids, Feelings, and Parents, Oh My!

by Mary Martha Abernathy, LPC

Inspired by How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk, by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish

Parenting is exhausting.  Taking part in relationships with adults who struggle to communicate their emotions is hard enough, but engaging with kids who don’t know what they are feeling or how to tell you their feelings is even harder!  Being in tune with our children’s emotions and experiences allows us to more naturally engage in our relationship with them.

Just because kids are “young, little, a baby” does not mean their emotional experiences are less real or matter less than our own experiences.

The author of How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk describes her experience of parenting and how she “could be accepting about most of the feelings [her] children had, but let one of them tell me something that made me angry or anxious and I’d instantly revert to my old way [of parenting]” (page 3).  Her old ways were when she would disregard, minimize, invalidate, avoid, or ignore another person’s experience.

How do we feel when someone disregards our feelings?  How do we feel when people pretend they didn’t hear what we said? Or, when people try to “help” or “fix” a situation when all we want is someone to listen.

When we feel listened to and understood it is easier for us to manage our emotional responses.  The same happens with our children.

When they feel listened to and understood, they are able to work through their emotional experiences and problem solve more clearly.   Often, children are just wanting someone to intently listen to them.  Our attunement to the conversation and small responses, like “uh-huh” allow our children to know we are paying attention.  This response only works if you are looking at them, not at a screen!

Children need help naming their emotions and giving words to their experience.

The naming of emotions acknowledges their experience and helps to increase their engagement in the relationship. It also helps to teach children about emotions.  It can be helpful to have an emotions chart on the refrigerator with faces on it, or for older kids a wheel of emotions.

Being in relationship with our kids is hard work. This hard work is laying the framework for better relationships as they age. We hope they have learned about their emotions and how to verbalize them and deal with them safely.   We are teaching something important to our children that they don’t yet know is important!

Reset Safe Connections Through Play Therapy

by: Isaac Knopp, PLPC

Reset Safe Connections Through Play Therapy

Big Figures, Small Worlds:

A big strong horse was the toy that Nate chose to play with in the sandbox. To anyone else this toy was just a small, plastic animal you might find at pretty much any toy store. But to Nate, who took his toy and plunged it beneath the sand and then looked up at me with wide and terrified eyes, it was more than a horse. Over the course of our time working together Nate was processing the sudden death of his dad. He always chose the horse, because to him, his dad was big and strong just like that horse.

Nate’s play was his way of telling me what he was wrestling with. Our kids have a different way of dealing with stress than we adults do. Play is a child’s way of grappling with the forces of the world and life that they cannot yet grasp. When our children encounter something too big, scary or difficult to grasp it gets incorporated directly into their play. Play is the essential and natural way a child resets their safe connections to others, self, and the world especially after they feel like their safe connections have been lost or threatened.

At times children will be classified as struggling with ADHD or having childhood anxiety, outbursts of anger, difficulty controlling emotions, self-regulating, and defiant behaviors. When in reality these classifications are simply symptoms of the child experiencing frustration in resetting their safe connections.

How do I give my child what he or she needs to succeed? As parents, our first thought is usually education, which is very important. However, often giving children what they need relationally can be a challenge because we feel ill equipped to meet them where they are. Learning how to connect with your child through play can give your child a big boost in self-image and development.

Connect Through Play:
  • Curiosity: Asking your child to explain what something means to them can be a window into their world.
  • Acceptance: Learning how to notice behaviors or play that seems bizarre yet may make total sense in their world of trying to reset their connections.
  • Empathy: Curiosity and acceptance create a platform for you to see the child’s expression of what they are really wresting with.
  • Trust: Once connections get established you will notice it is much easier for your child to rely on themselves as well as others. It will also be easier for you to trust that your child is doing important developmental work all the time.

In one of my last sessions with Nate, he walked up to the toy shelf to gaze at all the toys. His little hands brushed over that big strong horse, he then moved over to a red firetruck. He said, “I don’t need to play with the horse today”, instead he reached up and took hold of the truck. Although the horse was small it was big in Nate’s world. Through play, Nate was able to successful reestablish his safe connections.

Life Lessons My Newborn Has Been Teaching Me

Life Lessons My Newborn Has Been Teaching Me

by: Melinda Seley, PLPC

Sometimes life’s greatest teachers come in the smallest of packages. After recently returning from maternity leave, I have been reflecting on some life lessons my newborn has been teaching (or re-teaching) me over the past several months.  Below are the top five:  

Silence the “always” and “nevers” and work to be present here and now.  

Caring for our newborn is one of the most demanding “jobs” I have ever had – it’s physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting. In those first weeks with our boy, I found myself so afraid that this would be my new normal – being trapped in the house with a tiny little person who could only communicate via hangry crying and who needed something from me for what seemed like every minute.  I would never get to have friends again, enjoy a cup of hot coffee, attend church, or do anything beyond being at my boy’s beckon call.  This is always how it was going to be.  I found myself saying a lot of “always” and “never’s”.  And the only place they led me was to despair and fear. They made me miss the joy and uniqueness of that finite season and a season I had so longed to experience.  

Do you find yourself saying a lot of always and nevers about where you are in life?  If so, what would it look like to, instead, be present in this moment, right now? To be honest about and grieve the unique challenges, losses, and hardships you are experiencing, but to not forget to look for and savor the good. Right here and now.

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Some of the most significant growth in life comes through hardship or struggle. Don’t avoid it.

Pediatricians recommend that by 2 months of age, infants spend 30-60 minutes on their tummy.  Until he could successfully lift his head, my boy hated “tummy time” and was quite vocal about his dislike of it.  It would turn our happy, easy-going baby into a crying mess.  I wanted to avoid it; I didn’t want to subject my own son to struggle; and honestly, I didn’t want to subject myself to additional emotional exhaustion from needing to soothe him afterwards.  But the only way for him to grow and be able to hold his head steady was for me to allow him to struggle. To give him opportunity each day to face what he didn’t like with support so that he could grow.  Is there anything in your life that seems like it would be easier to avoid but really what you need most is to get down on the mat and spend time learning to lift your head – through the tears and grumbles?  What are you missing out on because it’s easier or more appealing to avoid the struggle?  

Value “being” rather than “doing”.  

I am a “doer”. I like lists and I especially like to check them off. Life with a newborn doesn’t allow for many lists other than feed, change diaper, soothe, repeat (with the occasional change clothes and spray with stain remover mixed in!). In the first days of being home all day alone with my son, I texted my husband, “I’ve showered and done a load of laundry…today is already a success!” And in doing so, I realized that my definition of success was based merely on how much of my “to do” list I could accomplish…instead of savoring just being with my new, precious child who relied on me for everything and who I had longed to have.  Do you struggle as I do to find your identity in what you do rather than just being?  What would it look like to keep the to do list, but give it a whole lot less weight in determining your worth?  You are not what you do. You are not the boxes you check off. You are you and that is enough.

The first time will be the hardest…the important thing is to lean into the fear and do it.  

After 3 weeks with our little guy, I felt like maybe I finally had the hang of this whole parenting a newborn thing. But I still had not left the house with him alone. I was afraid – what if something happens when we’re out and I don’t have what I need or worse yet – I look like I have no idea what I’m doing as a mom?!  My fear kept me stuck in the house and unable to move forward.  And then I read somewhere an encouragement to do something I feared as a new mom each day.  And suddenly I felt a resolve within me that I would not let fear rule me. I had to name the fear and walk through it. After leaving the house for the first time and realizing that I could survive it (and more importantly, our little one could survive it!), it got easier. I had concrete experience to learn from.  What is fear keeping you from doing? What do you need in order to move through that fear and do something for the first time?

Stop comparing.

Being a first time parent is hard. There are so many unknowns, big adjustments, differing opinions on how you should care for your little one, exhaustion, and fear. Every parent is different and every child is different. I found myself looking around me at friends who are on their second, third, fourth child and thinking, “They are handling life so much better and they have more than one child! I can’t even manage {fill in the blank} and I only have one kiddo!” So much shame. And insufficiency. And failure. But my comparing isn’t fair. Those friends of mine have walked through the challenge of adding their first child to their family and they had to do and experience all these things for the first time, too.  And they questioned themselves, felt unsure, and were overwhelmed just as I have been.  And they learned along the way how to do it.  Comparing myself to others in different seasons or places in life discounts their journey to get where they are and the journey I have not yet walked.  And experience is one of life’s greatest teachers. When I stopped looking around to compare and gave myself grace to navigate this completely new role with my unique child and my unique strengths and weaknesses, I found so much more joy in the process. Do you find yourself making endless comparisons?  Are they fair? What would it look like to acknowledge that you have unique strengths and weaknesses and experience is a great teacher?  Would that make a difference in your joy?  

Do you need to learn (or apply) any of these life lessons along with me?  What are you learning where you are on this journey of life?  

 

Permission Slips for the New Mom

by: Kim Hammans, PLPC

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There are times in life that invoke extreme emotion and their impact tends to leave us forever changed as people. The birth of a child is certainly one of those times.

Having just come back from my own maternity leave, I find myself reflecting on how intense these past few weeks with a newborn have been. I have experienced all-consuming joy. Looking into my new little one’s eyes and cradling his little body brings thankfulness and awe into my heart. But there have also been painfully lonely feelings, too. Some moments I have been so tired I cannot think straight and so overwhelmed with emotions that I am not sure which one is accurate and which one to trust.

As women, we often feel we must get back on our feet, returning to “normal” as quickly as possible. Taking the time to heal— physically and emotionally— can feel like a luxury we cannot afford ourselves. So when the emotions hit us (and who can escape the hormonal roller coaster after giving birth?) we often feel a lot of pressure to get it under control and make it stop. I think we do ourselves a disservice when we treat ourselves this way.

During my own recovery, I was reminded of Brene Brown’s technique of writing yourself permission slips when doing something that is scary. Brown is the author of several books, one entitled, The Gifts of Imperfection. She hosted an e-course based on this book, in which she invited her students to write their own permission slips as they face doing something new. I applied her wisdom to my postpartum recovery. Some of these “permissions” were easier for me to believe in the moment than others. But through time I have found all of them to be true.

If you are about to welcome a baby into your life, or support someone who is, I offer the following list of permissions to you:

1. It’s okay to cry.

For some, this is easy. Tears just come. But for others, tears can be a source of shame. Your feelings and your emotions during this time are real, and holding them in will not help you in the long run. After my first son was born, I remember a guest coming to my home to visit both of us. I burst into tears when she asked me how I was doing. She embraced me and simply said, “This is normal and this is real life. It is okay to cry.” I experienced such freedom from those words. This truth helped me to embrace my tears and I actually felt lighter after getting some of the tears out.

2. It’s okay to ask for help.

You need to focus your energy on recovery and on bonding with and enjoying your new baby. Lean in to the people around you. Let !them help you. Let them cook you meals, fold your laundry, play with your older kids, and worry about the dishes, bills, and other chores. When people ask you what you need, don’t be afraid to accept their help. Raising a baby takes a community, and this starts from the very beginning. If you don’t have people immediately able to help you, consider hiring help: a housecleaner, a babysitter, or a postpartum doula are good people to consider.

3. It’s okay to rest.

Taking time to sleep is essential for your healing. There is no shame in allowing your body to relax and doing nothing but caring for yourself and your new baby.

4. It’s okay to enjoy the newborn phase.

If you are a mom who loves babies, enjoy it. Soak up every yawn, every adorable face and amazing sound your baby makes. Snuggle and enjoy every aspect of your baby.

5. …And its okay if you don’t enjoy this time so much.

If on the other hand you are finding it hard to enjoy the baby, relax. It is okay. It does not mean you are a terrible mom. This phase is hard. The sleeplessness and the newness to everything can be exhausting and terrifying and completely overwhelming. There is nothing wrong with you if you do not enjoy this phase.

6. It’s okay to not know what you are doing.

Ah, competence. I don’t think I knew how much I relied upon feeling competent until I felt utterly incompetent in the presence of a new little life. It is normal to not know what you are doing. It is okay. Breathe.

7. It’s okay to focus on your needs.

New mom, you matter. Your healing matters. It is okay to take breaks, to find time for yourself, to take an extra long shower, and to do things to help yourself recover. Do not neglect yourself: eat meals. Sleep. Rest.

8. It’s okay for things to be imperfect, messy, and incomplete.

Speak kindly to yourself as you enter a whole new phase of life. It will not be perfect. Things will be messy and hard. Your relationship with your partner will probably be strained. You may not be able to care for your other kids in the way you typically do. It will be okay. This is only a season, and it is okay for it to look messy— both literally (there is stuff on my kitchen floor that has been there for weeks!) as well as relationally and emotionally.

9. It’s okay to seek professional help.

When the feelings become intense, when the fears consume, and when the pressure feels palpable, it is okay to reach out for help. Talk to your doctor. Find a therapist. Do not go at it alone.

What permissions would you add for yourself?

Do you Love Me? From the Perspective of a Foster Kid

by: Lianne Johnson, LPC

Do you Love Me?

 

It is a question each of us longs to hear the answer to from those we care about most – Do you love me?

Mustering the courage to ask the question takes great risk, doesn’t it? Because once the question is asked, out loud, to the person we hope will say yes, all we can do is wait for their response. Those few seconds from the time the question is asked to the moment the person answers, feels like an eternity. We are, in that moment, at our most vulnerable place. Naked in our need to be loved. Hoping they will say yes. Hoping that our longing to know we matter in this world will be eased in their “yes.”

Some friends of mine became foster parents this past year. The wife of this couple started sharing some of her experiences on her website. I have valued her honesty and vulnerability. In my opinion, I think anyone who is a caring foster parent deserves many awards. Non-stop praise. They are courageous, vulnerable, giving, and brave. I have two images in my mind when I think of caring foster parents – a punching bag and bean bag. Their role requires them to absorb the “blows,” yet remain as welcoming as a bean bag. Hard stuff, people. Hard stuff.

In one of her recent posts titled Head and Heart, she shares about a time when one of her foster kids asked, in essence, “Do you love me?” She asked my friend if she loved her husband more than her. Whoa, that’s big time. I could imagine myself in that moment. Speechless. Knowing that however I would answer wouldn’t satiate this child’s longing to feel loved, as she lives in a world that causes her to wonder if she matters on a daily basis.

I have learned in my job and my life that sometimes what’s most important isn’t the question itself, but what the question reveals about the asker. When I hear the question being asked by this foster child, “do you love me more than your husband?” I don’t think she is looking for a yes or no answer. Actually, I don’t even think this is the true question of her heart. I hear her asking in that moment, “Do I matter? Am I loved?” Even though you are in the room with her, she feels alone in this world. Foster children live within a world that forces them to continually question their worth. She feels alone, disregarded, and confused. What she has been taught about love and loving another is most likely skewed and distorted.

At this point I think its important to note that ALL kids ask this question – foster, biological, or stepchildren. Kids are curious little creatures. Trying to make sense of what they see, feel, hear, and think. I also think its very important to take into account the child’s developmental level and how they intrinsically process input. All of these things matter in how we respond. A 5 year old asking this question is different than a 10 year old. The trauma in their life story is important. All of their uniqueness is important and needs to be taken into account.

I don’t think there is a perfect way to answer this question, and really, I don’t even think the question necessitates an answer. What I mean is we first must learn from the child a bit more about what is motivating them to ask the question. What longing are they thinking about? Are they trying to make sense of love and loving another? How do we figure out what’s really behind the question? Ask questions!

“Do I love you MORE THAN my husband? Hmmmm, good question! Well let’s talk about it! What made you think to ask that question? Is this something you’ve been thinking about for a while? What do you think love is? What do you think it means to love someone else? Do you think there is different kinds of love? When you think about love, do you love your brother like you do your friends at school?”

These questions will hopefully help reveal what’s truly on their mind. They will help you learn about how they think about love and relationships. Knowing these answers will better equip you to walk with them and talk to them about their wonderings and longings.

My Most Recent Parenting Blunder

My Most Recent Parenting Blunder

I just decided to look up the word “blunder” since it is the word that seems most appropriate for this parenting mishap, and according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, blunder means “a stupid or careless mistake.”  Yep, that captures this situation in a nutshell!

blunder1740-correction

About 2 weeks ago some friends and I were about to watch a movie called The Hunger Games.  Have you seen it?  If not go here to learn about the premise of the movie – basically, kids and teenagers have to kill each other to live.  These movies are very well done, but the storyline is a bit jarring.  So back to my blunder….my 8 year old son (almost 9…if that helps my case any?!?!) wanted to watch the movie with us.  He often loves to watch things with my friends and me.  I think he genuinely enjoys the shared experiences.  When he first asked to watch it with us I was hesitant.  I polled the room to see what others thought.  The overall consensus was that he would be okay, though I think we were all a little hesitant!  That still wasn’t enough for me.  Then I thought about other movies he’s seen – Harry Potter, Star Wars, Home Alone (does this even count among the other movies listed?), and I began to think he could handle it.  He and I talked briefly about the movie’s storyline and then jointly decided he could watch it with us.  He was ecstatic!

Can you guess what happened?  When the killing started it was too much for him.  He announced, “This is too much for me.  I’m gonna go to my room.”  And he walked into his room, shut the door, and about 2 seconds later the crying began.  Blunder.

He was very upset.  While crying he said, “How could people do that to each other?  How could the president guy get away with that?  I just want to go get him and kill him.  What he is doing is wrong.  The people need to get together and get rid of him (pretty amazing considering that is exactly what happens in the story!).”  He said many more statements like the ones I just wrote, and as I hugged him and listened I began to learn more about my son.  Here’s the first thing I learned:  My son loves justice and hates injustice.  Immediately many instances flooded my mind of times when this character trait showed itself in his words and actions.  It was a blessing to see this so clearly.

He also said this, “I am so mad at myself for choosing to watch that movie.  I should have known better.  It was too much for me.”  After he said this my heart broke a little.  I hated that he was taking responsibility for this decision when clearly I am the parent and I am the one who is in his life to protect him from making “blunder” types of decisions.  So I immediately set the record straight and told him, “You are not to blame for this, I am.  I am your mom.  I am here to protect you, and I didn’t do my job very well with this decision.  You are 8.  You aren’t supposed know how to make decisions like this yet.  But I am.  And I messed this one up.  Will you please forgive me?  Please don’t be mad at yourself.  If you need to be mad at anyone be mad at me.”  His whole demeanor shifted.  A weight had been lifted.  The shift was as clear as day.  He was relieved to be reminded about what is his responsibility and what is mine.  He was allowed to be 8, and this was good for his soul!

So here is the other thing I learned:  I will make blundering types of mistakes with my kids and its not the end of his world or mine.  The mistake isn’t the most important thing, but how it’s handled IS!

So I think I’ll wait a few more years before trying to watch The Hunger Games again with my oldest son, but I am thankful to have learned so much about him through my blunder!

 

by: Lianne Johnson, LPC

Your Kids Don’t Need A Perfect Parent

Your Kids Don’t Need A Perfect Parent

I have good news: your kids don’t need a perfect parent.

You are not alone if you think parenting is hard.  It is.  It is a job that requires all of who I am, around the clock.  I can love my kids well and serve them well for a few hours or even a few days in a row.  I can be attentive to their needs, present, and engaged.  I think there are even times I am good at it.  But then there are days when caring for them feels like a cheese grater on my skin. It doesn’t come naturally and I have little desire to sacrifice on their behalf.

When you live with people, especially people dependent upon you for their every need, it is hard to hide the darker facets of your heart.  This part of parenting creates a lot of fear and anxiety for many parents (myself included).  When my kids get an angered response from me, or I thoughtlessly dismiss them, I can see the sadness on their face and sense confusion about why mommy is suddenly being unkind or impatient.  In this moment— this moment we all face— we have a choice.

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We can sail past it, pretending it didn’t happen.

We can grow defensive and justify our selfishness.

Or we can turn toward our child and ask forgiveness.

When we fail (which we all do!) the temptation to hide our imperfections, deny them, or simply disengage from our children grows stronger in our hearts.  When facing the upsetting truth of our imperfection, we feel vulnerable.  And that is scary.

I have found that owning my imperfections and asking for forgiveness–like the third option above–restores and enhances the relationship with my children.  The pressure to be perfect dissipates for both of us and the freedom to be authentic is more defining of our relationship.

In a world filled with pressure to look good, where appearances are everything and self-sufficiency is glorified, we have the power to give our kids the tools to engage honestly and find their identity in something beyond appearing perfect.  We can model and promote love and acceptance through being authentic amidst vulnerability, rather than doing everything “perfectly.”

So good news!  Your kids don’t need a perfect parent. They need a courageous parent, humble enough to to risk vulnerability after messing up. How you honestly handle your imperfection matters more than your imperfections themselves.

By: Kim Hammans, PLPC

Parenting In a World Full of Porn

Parenting in a world full of porn makes protecting our children even harder than it already is.

As a parent myself, I can sometimes feel like I have already lost the battle against protecting my children against all the ways the internet can negatively impact them.

 

But then if I am honest with myself, even though the internet seems larger than life, and even though porn is everywhere on the internet, I can still take control of when, how, how much, and if my kids have access to it.

Avenues Counseling

I read a blog post today by Tim Challies that I found extremely helpful to me (and hopefully you) as I am parenting in a world full of porn.  Here is his post in its entirety:

The Porn-Free Family Plan

I am a father of three children who are fully part of the digital generation. They are as comfortable with iPods as I am with a paperback and have only ever known a world where almost all of us have cell phones with us at all times, where Facebook is a teenager’s rite-of-passage, where every home has five or ten or twenty devices that can access the rest of the world through the Internet. Yet I know of the dangers that are lurking out there, waiting to draw them in.

I want to protect my children in a world like this, but I want to do more than that. I want to disciple my children to live virtuously, to use these new technologies for good purposes instead of bad ones. I believe this is a crucial part of my calling as a parent. To address this great need, I have put together what I call The Porn-Free Family Plan. It is a plan designed to protect my children from online dangers so that I can train them to use their devices and technologies well.

THE PORN-FREE FAMILY PLAN

A thorough plan needs to account for three types of device:

  • Fixed devices. These are the devices will only ever be used in the home. Here we have desktop computers in the home office or Internet-enabled televisions and gaming consoles. Parents can have a significant level of control over these devices.
  • Mobile devices. These are the laptops, tablets, smart phones and other devices that can be used in the home but also carried out of the home and used elsewhere. Parents can have as lesser degree of control over these devices.
  • Other people’s devices. These are the computers children may use at another person’s home or the tablets other children may show to their friends. Parents can have no control over these devices.

In all of this there are two broad goals: To prevent those who want to find pornography and to protect those who do not want to find it but who may otherwise find themselves exposed to it, to confound those who want to see porn and to shield those who don’t. And while the plan is geared specifically to combat pornography, it will also help battle other online dangers.

The Porn Free Family Plan has four steps: Plan, Prepare, Meet and Monitor.

PLAN

You’ve heard the old maxim: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. The maxim applies well to what we are attempting to accomplish here. A successful plan will need to account for every device in your home that combines an Internet connection with a screen. So let’s get to work.

Step 1: Inventory
You need to know exactly how many Internet-enabled devices you have in your home. To do this, you will need to take an inventory. Make a list of all your Internet-enabled devices: desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smart phones. Don’t forget the Playstation 3, Xbox, smart televisions, Apple TVs, iPods, and e-reader tablets. Even a Kindle reading device has basic web-browsing capabilities. A family recently reported that after doing this they were shocked to learn they had 22 devices to account for!

Step 2: Budget
Decide whether you are able to make Internet security a regular and recurring monthly expense. Where it used to cost money to access pornography, today it often costs money to avoid it. While there are free options available, the best services have a cost associated with them. A budget of $20-$25 per month will allow a family to take advantage of the premier options.

Step 3: Learn
Now that you have taken your inventory and have a better grasp of the devices your plan needs to account for, it is time to learn about the options available to protect those who use them. There are four broad categories of protection we have available:

  • Filtering. Filtering proactively detects and blocks objectionable content. (Examples: If your child does an Internet search for “naked girls,” it will block the search; If your child mistakenly clicks a link to a pornographic web site, it will block access to the site.)
  • Accountability. Accountability software tracks web sites visited from different devices and then prepares and delivers regular reports. (Example: If your child visits a pornographic web site or performs a search for “naked girls,” the accountability software will note it and include it in a report emailed to you.)
  • Parental controls. Parental controls block certain functions of modern devices (Examples: Preventing the use of the Internet browser on an iPod Touch; preventing the use of the Facebook app on a tablet).
  • Communication. We cannot rely on technology to solve all of our problems, so the plan must also involve regular, deliberate and open communication.

Because none of these offers complete protection, the wise plan must use some combination of all four. The Porn-Free Family plan uses the following tools:

  • OpenDNS. OpenDNS uses filtering to automatically block objectionable web sites for every device connected to your home network. It is activated by making a small change to the settings on your existing router.
  • Covenant Eyes. Covenant Eyes tracks the web sites visited by your computers and mobile devices and sends regular email reports; it also offers optional filtering that can be configured specifically for each member of your family.
  • Parental Controls. Parental controls allow parents to disable certain functions on devices.
  • Meetings. The most indispensable tool is regular, open, deliberate communication between parents and their children.

Step 4: Discuss
Before you begin to implement the plan, it may be a good idea to meet with your family to explain what you are about to do and what you hope to accomplish by it. You will be inconveniencing your family and putting rules in place that will impact them, so it may be wise to discuss these things with them.

PREPARE

Let’s get started in putting that plan in place. This will take a couple of hours, so set aside the time, brew yourself a coffee, and get to it!

Step 1: Create Passwords
Master password. At the very top of the list is creating your master password. Your whole plan may fail if you choose a bad password or fail to protect it. Make it good (something that is difficult to guess and combines letters with numbers) and make sure you store it somewhere safe if you are not certain you will remember it. You may also need to create a 4-digit master password for mobile devices.

Family passwords. You also need to create a password for every other person in your home. Create passwords that will be easy for them to remember, but hard for others to guess. Every child needs to know his own password and only his own password. Make sure you record these passwords somewhere safe. If your children use mobile devices, you may also need to create mobile passwords for your children—usually 4-digit codes. Once again, make sure you know these codes and make sure you store them somewhere safe.

Step 2: Sign Up & Create Accounts
With your passwords in place, it is time to sign up for the services you will be using.

OpenDNS. We will begin by signing up for OpenDNS.

  • Visit OpenDNS (www.opendns.com) and look for their Parental Control Solution. OpenDNS Family Shield is a great place to begin (Alternatively, OpenDNS Home VIP is the optional, premier solution and costs $19.95 per year).
  • Create a user account for yourself using your master password.
  • Take a look at the different filtering options and set the ones appropriate for your family. Whatever you set here will apply to every device that accesses the Internet through your home network.
  • Note: It would be best to set the filter to block more rather than less, and to loosen it if and when you find that it is blocking too many sites.

Covenant Eyes. You have signed up for your filtering; now it’s time to sign up for the accountability software.

  • Visit Covenant Eyes (www.covenanteyes.com) and create an account using your master password.
  • Add each member of your family as a user and assign the password you created for each of them.
  • Sign up each user for accountability monitoring and have the reports sent to your email address every 3 to 7 days. Choose an accountability level appropriate to their age and maturity.
  • If you would like to have user-specific filtering in addition to the general filtering with OpenDNS, configure that as well. Choose a filtering level appropriate to each person’s age and maturity. It may also be wise to disable Internet access during certain times (Example: Disable all Internet access for your children after 9 PM and before 7 AM).
  • Note: It is best to set the filter and accountability to block and report more and to relax the filtering levels only if and when it is proving cumbersome.

Computers. Now you need to create user accounts on each of your computers and laptops (and tablets if they allow multiple users).

  • For every computer in your home you will need to create an account for each person who uses it. This means that if there are five people in your family and they each use the family computer, you will need to create five accounts—one for each of them.
  • Create an account for yourself using your master password and ensure that you have administrator privileges.
  • Then create a user account for each family member using the password you created for them; make sure that they do not have administrator privileges.

Let me offer a warning: This step can be laborious, especially if you have multiple computers. Persevere!

Step 3: Install Software
Now that we have created our accounts, we can install and activate OpenDNS and Covenant Eyes.

Install OpenDNS on your router. OpenDNS is activated with a simple change on your home router and managed through an online interface at www.opendns.com. You will need to refer to OpenDNS to learn how to change the appropriate settings. As soon as you do this, your filtering will be activated. Just like that, you are already beginning to protect your family.

Install Covenant Eyes on every laptop and desktop computer in your home. Visitwww.covenanteyes.com, log in to your account, download the appropriate software, and install it. Log in to each account on each computer and ensure that the Covenant Eyes software is running properly (look for the “open eye” icon).

Mobile Devices. If you have decided to allow browser access on your mobile devices, install the Covenant Eyes browser on those devices (typically by visiting an app store and downloading the app). Note: If you wish to have Covenant Eyes on your mobile devices, you will also need to use parental controls (see below) to block access to any other browser on those devices.

Gaming Consoles. Remove Internet browser access on all gaming consoles. Also consider removing access to YouTube, Netflix and other video sites.

Other Devices. Return to your inventory list and see what other devices you need to account for. Your plan will only be as strong its weakest point.

Step 4: Apply Parental Controls
Set parental controls on all mobile devices. To make this effective on devices owned by your children, you will need to set a parental control password and use this password to ensure only you have access to the parental controls. Here are the settings I recommend for devices used by children:

  • Ensure devices lock as soon as they are no longer in use.
  • Turn off web browsing. If your children need web browsing, install the Covenant Eyes browser and use parental controls to block access to all other browsers.
  • Turn off the ability to install new apps without inputting your password.
  • Turn off the ability to change their own password or account information.
  • Consider turning off Facebook, Twitter and other social media apps (since these apps often have a built-in browser that will allow them to visit web sites while bypassing all accountability software).
  • Consider turning off the camera access if you are concerned that your child may misuse. Be especially cautious with applications that combine social media with a camera (Snapchat, Instagram, etc).

Congratulations! You made it through. You know what devices are in the home, and you have accounted for each one by installing filtering and accountability software. There is just one problem: Everyone in your family is upset with you! So now it is time for that family meeting.

MEET

We tend to believe that problems caused by technology can be solved by more technology. However, what is stronger, better, and longer-lasting than even the best technology, is character. The family meeting is where you discuss and emphasize the importance and the growth of character.

I suggest having an occasional family-wide meeting to discuss the system, and regular one-on-one meetings with your children to ask them specific questions and ask for specific feedback.

Step 1: The Family Meeting
The actual content of the family meeting will depend to some degree on the age of your children. Here are some ideas for talking points:

  • Concern. Because of your concern for their well-being, you have taken actions to protect them as they use the Internet. Explain that you do not view your children as criminals or porn addicts, but that you do wish to protect them from online dangers. Depending on the age of your children, this may be a good time to explain that there are so many people who struggle with pornography that they may need to expect that some day they will face the temptation as well.
  • Privacy. Your children—and especially young children—should have no expectation of privacy when they use their devices. They should know that you will have liberty to check their devices without their permission and that their online actions will generate reports that you intend to monitor. You are doing this in order to love and protect them.
  • Passwords. Everyone needs to know the importance of passwords and that you expect them to protect theirs. They may not share their passwords with their siblings or their friends.
  • Readiness. You need to speak to your children about Internet safety outside the home. Talk to them about what to do if they are accessing devices in other people’s homes. Explain to them what they should do if someone shows them pornographic or otherwise inappropriate material.
  • Mom and Dad. If you have decided to hold yourself to the same standards—to use filtering and accountability software (something I recommend!)—this is a good time to explain that to the children.

Step 2: One-on-One Meetings
Parents and their children will benefit tremendously from having regular discussions about online dangers and concerns. The conversations will vary a great deal depending on the age and maturity level of the child. Here are some questions you may consider asking:

  • Are you able to access everything you need to access online?
  • Are you feeling tempted to look for things online that you know you shouldn’t look for?
  • Do you know if your friends are looking at pornography and talking about it?
  • Have you looked at pornography since the last time we met?

I trust you have prepared yourself for some push-back and some frustration, especially at the beginning. Your children will probably find that they cannot access certain sites or that they need to input passwords where before they did not. Your spouse may find that she cannot access certain sites she wants to. Persevere, and address each issue as it arises.

MONITOR

The plan is in place, and your family is now benefiting from some level of protection. But this not a plan you can set in place and simply leave to run its course. It requires monitoring and maintenance.

  • Covenant Eyes Reports. Covenant Eyes will send you regular reports. Do not expect these reports to be as helpful as you want them to be. You will need to take some time—two or three minutes—to look carefully over the report looking for anything that seems amiss. Follow-up with any of your children whose report shows a red flag.
  • OpenDNS Reports. OpenDNS also collects reports, including pages and searches it has blocked. While you will not know who is responsible for these blocks, you would do well to keep an eye on them, to look for patterns, and so on.
  • Adjust. As your children grow older you may find that you need to adjust their privileges. You may also find that as they grow older they face greater temptations which will require fewer privileges. Be willing to adjust accordingly.
  • Maintain. Covenant Eyes updates their software on a regular basis. As they do this, you will want to install the new updates.

CONCLUSION

And that’s the Porn-Free Family Plan. It takes a couple of hours of hard work to set up, but it is time well-invested. Even then, this plan is not fool-proof—no plan is completely fool-proof. There will be ways around it for those committed to finding those ways. Covenant Eyes will occasionally block something harmless; OpenDNS will sometimes fail to filter something that obviously ought to be filtered. Yet the plan will suffice for most families in most circumstances. You are well on your way to training and protecting your children.

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I hope you found this post as helpful as I did.  -Lianne Johnson, LPC