Just learned a friend’s 9 yr old granddaughter has been watching porn since she was 6. No parental controls on tech. This is child neglect.
— Karen Swallow Prior (@KSPrior) July 7, 2017
This winds me up like nothing else. Earlier this year, after giving a Benedict Option speech at a school, parents told me that some other parents they knew were buying their first graders Internet-connected smartphones. Now, what do you imagine that this poor little kid in Karen Swallow Prior’s tweet is telling her friends at school? What do you imagine she’s sharing with them when they get together to play with smartphones?
Don’t you wonder where this kind of thing (reported by the BBC) comes from?:
Anna – not her real name – considered having labiaplasty from the age of 14.
“I just picked up from somewhere that it wasn’t neat enough or tidy enough and I think I wanted it to be smaller.
“People around me were watching porn and I just had this idea that it should be symmetrical and not sticking out.
“I thought that was what everyone else looked like, because I hadn’t seen any normal everyday [images] before then.
“I remember thinking, ‘If there’s surgery for it, then clearly I’m not the only one who wants this done, and maybe it won’t be that big a deal.’.”
Paquita de Zulueta, a GP for more than 30 years, said it was only in the past few years that girls had started coming to her with concerns over the appearance of their labia.
“I’m seeing young girls around 11, 12, 13 thinking there’s something wrong with their vulva – that they’re the wrong shape, the wrong size, and really expressing almost disgust.
“Their perception is that the inner lips should be invisible, almost like a Barbie, but the reality is that there is a huge variation. It’s very normal for the lips to protrude.”
Here’s part of what I wrote about this phenomenon in The Benedict Option:
My wife once asked a new Christian friend why she homeschools her children, given that they live in a good public school district. Said the friend, “The day my fifth-grade son came home from school and said his friends were watching hardcore porn on their smartphones was the day my husband and I made the call.” It wasn’t the school’s fault. Smartphones were forbidden there. The boys were accessing pornography on their free time—and there wasn’t a thing school authorities could do about it.
When parents hand their children small portable computers with virtually unlimited access to the Internet, they should not be surprised when their kids—especially their sons—dive into pornography. Unfortunately, with boys at least, it’s in the nature of the hormone-jacked beast. Moms and dads who would never leave their kids unattended in a room full of pornographic DVDs think nothing of handing them smartphones. This is morally insane.
No adolescent or young teenager should be expected to have the self-control to say no. Earlier in this book, we discussed the catastrophic impacts pornography can have on the brains of addicts. According to the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, 93 percent of boys and 62 percent of girls have seen online pornography in adolescence.12 It may be impossible to guard their eyes constantly, but it is irresponsible of parents not to try. Plus, parents in peer groups should work together to enforce a smartphone ban among their kids.
I am getting radical on this issue. There are many, many parents who send their kids to Christian schools, or to classical Christian schools, because they want them to be in a supposedly Christian environment, somewhat insulated from the morally chaotic popular culture — but give them smartphones. I have to wonder, what do they think they’re doing?! Schools cannot be the only ones to police this. Parents have to build an anti-smartphone culture for their kids, and help each other stick to it. Eventually the kid will become older teenagers, but one hopes that they will have been morally formed to have self-restraint when it comes to pornography access on the thing.
If you’re a parent who gives your small child or adolescent a smartphone, or in some other way gives them unfettered access to tech, you had better ask yourself how you would feel if your child were the granddaughter in KSP’s tweet. The fault here is not the child’s. It falls directly on the parents, who are destroying these kids’ childhoods.
Question to readers: have any of you tried to build an anti-smartphone culture in your church or school? Has it worked? Why or why not? Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated. I can see that we’re going to have to try to do this in our school.
Everybody should read Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family, by the way.
UPDATE: Reader Jay M.:
It consistently amazes my wife and I how many otherwise sane, thoughtful, deeply committed Christian parents desperately try to avoid engaging about this issue. We homeschool our two oldest daughters (11 and 10) and send our youngest son (7) to a private classical Christian elementary school. We are Orthodox Christians and work hard to center our family’s daily and weekly rhythm around the life of the Church and our social life in the lives of fellow Christians. But even so, we are regularly flabbergasted at how many of our daughters’ peers have smartphones. My wife recently went out with a group of women and when she talked about our commitment to no smartphones for our kids she was hit with a barrage of “Oh just you wait till they really start begging for it!”, “You know you’re only gonna make your kids feel ostracized or like they’re weird,” or other such comments from all sides. These were good, committed Christian women who are not lackadaisical about their faith (who send their kids to private Christian school or homeschool them), but on this issue most of the women literally refused to listen to anything my wife tried to say. A few were willing to grant that they felt guilty about giving their kids smartphones, even that they knew it was probably not good for them, but gosh it’s just so hard to say no and, well, other parents would look at us like we’re freaks and all. Rod, I’ve heard these same comments myself and I cannot remotely understand this. I want to scream at these people, “What the hell is wrong with you?! Your know that handing that smartphone over is rife with danger but you do it anyway because you’re more scared of other grown-ups thinking you’re weird than you are of your son becoming a porn addict? Of your daughter getting a warped view of her own body? Of your kid becoming yet another social media addict who can’t manage a relationship with anyone that’s not mediated through a screen?” We have a number of friends even who love to talk about the Benedict Option, who are often very intentional in creating local Christian community and encouraging each other’s families, but who just do not want to talk at all about what your book has to say about technology. We can talk about combating the mess of public education and helping each other give our kids Christian and classical education. We can talk all night long about grounding our family lives in the rhythm of the Church year, in the Liturgy, about introducing our kids to the lives of the saints, about moving closer together and keeping in close proximity to the parish. But talk about taking a hard look at restricting or re-thinking and changing our tech-habits? Nah, we can’t go there; that’s too radical.