Parenting has always been intimidating – it wasn’t so long ago we were kids, and now we’re raising them? – but one thing parents of the past could count on was that they knew more than their kids. For today’s parents there is one very big part of life where that isn’t true – when it comes to the Internet, and Apps, and smartphones, and social media, then even our youngest children can quickly outpace us.
They can know how to use these tools better than we do, and yet they aren’t mature enough to deal with all the dangers that also come with them. So what’s a parent to do? Our children live in a “pornified” culture and it seems that no matter how protective we are, it’s only a matter of time before our children run across something on the Internet that we wish they’d never seen. So how can we do all we can to push that eventual exposure to as far out as we can? And how can we prepare them for what they need to do when it does happen?
To answer those questions and more I can’t think of a better resource to turn to than Luke Gilkerson’s Parenting the Internet Generation.
It is not only fantastic, it’s even free.
Parenting is foundational
What makes Parenting so much better than other books on this topic is that it digs much deeper. This isn’t simply a pornography problem; what it really comes down to is Christian parenting. If we want our kids to resist temptation, and come to us when they do mess up, then we need to know how to discipline them rightly, as God instructs us.
The best way to show just how good this book really is might be to share some excerpts. So I’ll begin with one of Gilkerson’s biblical-based thoughts on discipling rightly.
Paul reminds fathers, “Do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21, NIV), and again in another letter, “Do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, NIV). Training and instruction happens as parents create an environment of authority, structure, correction, and consequences, but Paul knows how easily parents can become frustrated and resentful in the process of parenting. This, in turn, leads us to embitter and exasperate our children by breaking their spirits.
One of the most common ways parents do this is by using shame-based strategies to get their kids to behave. What exactly is “shame-based” parenting? It is a family dynamic where shame – the looming threat or presence of disapproval and disfavor – is the primary motivator used for good behavior. This can show up in a thousand ways.
• Expecting perfection by overestimating what their sinful hearts can do
• Failing to really listen to them as we correct them
• Speaking bitter or harsh words (“What is wrong with you?” “When will you ever…?” “You always…” “You never…” “You idiot”)
• Showing little compassion
• Giving the cold shoulder or being dismissive
• Pushing kids to excel in peripheral tasks
• Showing favoritism to other siblings
It is a rigid environment that leaves children discouraged and exasperated. This kind of environment often trains children to be obsessive over “doing the right things” in order to be approved – or else totally rebellious. This kind of environment has unwittingly made so many children ripe for sexually sinful habits.
See where Gilkerson is going here? How we parent can either help our children resist temptation…or push them towards it. Most of us have indulged in this shame-based parenting at one point or another, and if we are going to help our kids, then we need to stop. We need to repent. The alternative is too horrible to consider. As Douglas Wilson puts it (in a quotation Gilkerson includes):
Gracious fathers lead their sons through the minefield of sin. Indulgent fathers watch their sons wander off into the minefield. Legal fathers chase them there.
I read this and found it daunting. It seemed simply too much for me, or me and my wife, to pull off. We know we’re going to mess up, fall short, and just generally fail our kids.
But it’s just that understanding that’s key. We are going to sin, but our gracious God is ready to forgive a repentant sinner. When we fall on God’s grace then even our failures can be instructive to our children, showing them the graciousness of God that they can depend on. So we don’t need to be perfect. But, our parenting goals should be clear:
Make this your goal every day: In each phase of the day when I interact with my children, I will either be an example to them in my obedience to and love for God, or I will be an example in my repentance.
In nine chapters Gilkerson lays out:
1. How porn harms our children (Introduction and Chapter 1)
2. What parents need to teach our children and model to them (Chapters 2-6, 8)
3. Tools parents can make use of (Chapter 7 and the Appendices)
4. What the gospel is, and how it applies to the matters or parenting and pornography (Chapter 9)
Each chapter ends with a half dozen or so reflection questions and some of these are so very pointed they may draw blood. A few examples:
“If our sin is small, then our Savior must be small. But, if our sin is outright rebellion, then our Savior must be a true rescuer.” In what ways have you made Jesus small in how you’ve parented?
If you have a tween or teen, have you ever directly asked him/her, “Have you ever seen pornography?” What would you say if he/she said, “yes”? Are you ready for that conversation?
At some point, it will happen — maybe not in your home, but maybe at school, on the bus, or at a friend’s house. Does your child know what to do if he/she ever sees porn?
Each chapter also includes a link to a short (4 minutes or less) video summarizing what the chapter just went over.
These questions and video are great study aids, probably best suited for a couple to go through together, but they would work great for a weekly parents’ study group too. Whether you’re going through it alone, or with a group each chapter has a lot to chew on so the best pace is probably just one chapter per week. The material is simply too thought-provoking to run through any quicker.
This isn’t a perfect book – I could list some minor quibbles (I think the distinction Gilkerson makes between guilt and shame is a bit confusing) – but I’ve not run across any better. It is the best guide available on a subject parents would love to have help with.
I should mention that the author works for Covenant Eyes (CE), which sells accountability software – this is software parents can use to monitor all the websites their children visit. This isn’t spying – the CE logo pops up every time the computer loads up, so children will know they are being monitored. This is, instead, a parent coming alongside their child, helping them resist temptation, and being aware of when they don’t. The book is made available for free on their website (you do have to give your name and email address to get the e-book but they won’t spam you). While companies generally give away books for promotional reasons, and I’m sure that CE will gain a few clients because of this book, CE’s motivations for giving away this book are of the very best kind. It’s clear they want to help parents.
And with this excellent resource, they most certainly are.