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Parents, Smartphones, And Porn

(Photo by Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

When this blog had the previous commenting format, Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa used to comment here. She either quit commenting, or didn’t make the transition to Disqus. I was surprised to see her byline pop up in the Dallas Morning News, and grateful for what she wrote, though it’s terrible that she had to write it. Her piece exposes the ugly truth that massive numbers of parents refuse to see, because it would force them to have to be parents to their children, not enablers. It also exposes the libertarian lie that this is a problem that the market can solve. Excerpts:

On a recent Sunday afternoon, my daughter and I were driving to the grocery store when she said from the back seat, “I’m having this weird feeling. It’s like I feel guilty, but I haven’t done anything wrong.”

We were passing a Catholic Church when she said this, so I jokingly told her I could drop her off for confession. She reminded me we’re not Catholic. Then I told her how her sister used to write me notes when she had something weighing on her.

I’d find them under my pillow, or in my makeup bag. Often light little burdens she wanted to lay down. As she got older they got a bit heavier, but so far nothing too serious.

In glittery red ink, the same she used for her Christmas list, her words sank my heart. At a friend’s birthday party, they were playing on the little girl’s phone. The girl handed it to my daughter and said, “Boys are disgusting.” My daughter clicked on a male classmate’s Snapchat story to find a video of him and a few other boys from her class laughing as they watched rape porn. She said the woman was bound up, saying “no” as a masked man approached her.

Her letter went on to describe a group of boys in her sixth grade class frequently joking about assaulting the girls in the parking lot. She said if any of the girls aren’t sitting with their legs closed, the boys will ask if they want to get pregnant. And if the girls’ legs are crossed, boys from this group often walk by and say, “Spread ‘em.”

They are in sixth grade. No 11-year-old should have to deal with, or even know, about things like this.

More:

Our children are growing up in a very different world than the one we knew as kids. Gone are the days of your grandfather’s Playboy. Today, children have access to explicit, violent and degrading sexual material in the palm of their hands at all times.

This is where many kids get their sex education. This is where they’re learning that consent doesn’t matter, and that actually, the lack thereof is big business.

Her letter ended with the most heartbreaking line: “and this is why I HATE SCHOOL.”

Schools today not only tolerate phones in the classroom, many encourage them. I know this because I won’t let my children have smartphones, and they complain that their teachers frequently ask them to download apps to complete their schoolwork.

Read it all. Pass it around.

Schools should stop enabling this right now!

Still, school administrators can’t do what parents should be doing. Even schools that forbid smartphones at school, and that don’t have policies that require smartphone use to do homework, can’t have any effect on whether or not kids have smartphones when they’re off campus. A few years back, I gave a talk in Dallas at a conservative Christian school in which I mentioned the role smartphones play in exposing children to hardcore porn. After my talk, some parents came to me and told me that they knew other conservative Christian parents who gave their elementary school age children smartphones with Internet connections. They didn’t want their kids to be outsiders among their peers, and were living with the cognitive dissonance because it was easier to live in denial than to say no to their children.

This has to stop. This has to stop right now. I don’t know what legislators can do to regulate the porn industry, but something, anything, is better than what we have now.

Parents can’t abdicate their own responsibilities here. Take the smartphone away from your children. Convince other parents of your children’s peers to do the same thing. This has to be a collective action if it’s going to have any hope of working.

It is true that as kids get older, having a phone to stay in touch with parents is useful, and maybe even a necessity under certain circumstances. In my family, we gave our teenagers dumb phones, without Internet access. It works well in that it allows the kids to call us to tell us when they’re ready to be picked up from events. Even so, just this past weekend my 15 year old son brought me his dumb phone, and showed me how porn merchants have been spamming his number with texts containing links to hardcore. Fortunately, without Internet access, the links are effectively dead on his phone, but he wanted me to know what’s happening.

This is evil. It is straight-up evil. If he had a smartphone, he would be getting these links unsolicited, and we would have to depend on his conscience and strength of character to not click on them. That is way, way too much to expect of a teenage boy. When I was his age, back in the Stone Age 1980s, all of us hormone-besotted boys that age were eager to get our hands on Playboys and Penthouses. Inevitably, some kid would get his hands on his dad’s stash of dirty magazines, and we would look at them. But it was hard to do, and didn’t happen often — and when it did, the porn in those magazines was nothing compared to the hardcore, live-action filth ubiquitous today.

To my readers who are parents: Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa makes it brutally clear what’s going on, and what’s at stake. This is on you. This is on us. There is no excuse. Even if your children don’t have smartphones, they still have to live in this sewer culture that porn is creating. Girls should not have to endure this harassment. Boys should not behave this way. The indifference of adults — parents above all, but also teachers, principals, and other gatekeepers — makes us all complicit in the degradation and bondage of our children to pornography.

Why do we do this to our children? Why? Answer me, Mom and Dad.

UPDATE: Comment by reader J. May:

I have two Christian men I meet with regularly so we can keep each other accountable with lust issues. We read books on the topic together, too. One has experienced quite a bit of victory in his battle with porn but for the other, it has remained a particularly pernicious problem.

This one is a bit younger, in his mid-twenties, and he was part of the first generation to come of age with smartphones. It was in 5th grade that a cohort of boys at his school exposed him to porn and shamed him to be part of what they were doing (I think some, if not all, were from Christian families). This started an intense addiction that he has had the hardest time kicking. He has been besought with shame and frustration.

The worst part of all this is that I see it in other younger men all the time. Their views on sex have been so distorted by porn that they create weird sexual expectations for women and never know they are missing out on the glory of relational, committed and meaningful sexual unions. To them, sex is a drug and, like all drugs, it remains an itch that clamors for continual scratching all while not delivering on any sort of real fulfillment other than being free of the itching sensation for a few moments.

Thankfully, the other man in our group was freed from 30 years of porn addiction early on in the process and has remained so. As a new believer, he didn’t even know that it was possible to be free and just assumed every guy was in the same boat. The resultant joy and confidence in this man’s life is greatly encouraging to watch.

If anyone wants resources on getting free from this stuff, I can highly recommend the Christian book Every Man’s Battle (a huge part of my journey of freedom from lust addiction) and also The Conquer Series course. That was started by Dr. Ted Roberts. You can hear his powerful story with starting it here: https://jesustransforms.org/episodes/10-from-hard-beginnings-to-training-conquerers-dr-ted-roberts-shares-his-powerful-life-story.

UPDATE.2: A reader e-mails:

I found a website that might be helpful to your viewers who want to take concrete actions to protect their home and their kids devices.  This is in no way an endorsement but just a useful tool I found that is easier than me trying to explain step by step how to do it for my fellow fathers.
First is:
This shows you in easy picture heavy steps how to setup parental controls for almost every brand of device out there.
Second, Protect your home internet.  The way I’m doing it now is via Open DNS:
They have step by step instructions for most popular routers.  This will block most porn at the internet access point level.  Its not difficult to bypass of course for a tech savvy kid but you’re making it harder and your preventing accidental exposure.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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