Has Your Child Been Looking at Bad Stuff Online?

What does a parent do when they catch their young child looking at inappropriate stuff online? I have been asked this one many times and in many ways and wanted to take a crack at answering it.

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Here is the Circle device we use in our home.


Over the years there’s an email I’ve gotten many times, it’s a conversation I’ve had at conferences, it’s one I’ve had with friends, at church. It’s one that comes up a lot and today I’d like to address it and essentially it begins with something like this. Help, my kid’s looking at bad stuff on the internet. Parents have found their kid or caught their kid or discovered somehow that their child, their young child has been looking at some not so good stuff on the internet. The parent is concerned, they don’t really know what to do about it. Today I’d like to offer just a few thoughts on that.

Okay, so you found out that your child has been looking at some bad stuff on the internet. Or some improper stuff, or some concerning stuff, whatever it is. What do you do about that? And clearly, in this question, I’m mostly thinking about sexual type content. Your child has gone looking online, they found some stuff, you’re wondering how to pick up the pieces, what to do about it. Let me offer a few things.

First, I think this is behavior we have modeled to our children in that we’ve taught our children when you have questions, you ask the internet. You ask, Google especially, and maybe as time goes on, you’re starting to ask your Amazon Echo or your Google Home or your Siri or whatever device you’ve got. You’re starting to model to children over the course of their young lives that you take your questions to the internet. That’s something we do and our kids learn the behavior.

I’ve got this funny memory of when I was in, I think it was eighth grade, a kid in my class was looking in the dictionary, looking up bad words or looking up bodily words in the dictionary. Now, why would he do that? It’s probably not something a kid would do today, but through his younger life, he had had it modeled that when you have questions you take it to a dictionary, you take it to an encyclopedia, right. And so when he wanted knowledge, that’s where he went. That knowledge was natural for a kid his age and then he went to the thing that had been modeled to him.

You know, kids today, they’ve seen modeled that when they have questions, they take it to the internet. So our kids are just doing what we functionally taught them to do over their younger lives. So, that puts a burden, a responsibility on us to monitor what they’re looking for. Because, clearly, looking up body parts in the Encyclopedia Britannica or in the dictionary is going to yield different results than just looking it up on Google. So this is behavior we’ve modeled.

Second, I think the default attitude of a parent should not be to really be angry with your kids or really be concerned for your kids. Why don’t you see it as an opportunity? One of the things, we’ve got three kids, I’ve talked to lots of other parents about their kids. One of the things you see is that kids want to have these conversations before parents do. Which is to say, you always think they’re too young to have these conversations. You always think they’re too young to have these questions or to be asking for these answers, to have this kind of knowledge. That’s just the way it is. And so, we have to be willing to respond to their questions. Most of the questions they have are going to be normal and natural and harmless. And if you just see this as an opportunity. So my kid went online and he googled this term, I’ll see that as an opportunity that I now have to address some questions he’s got. What you don’t want to do, and especially if this is the first, second time your child has done this, you haven’t really laid down rules yet, don’t freak out at your child, don’t yell at your child. You’ve got an opportunity here to insert yourself in as an authority who’s trustworthy and reasonable and who can have good, beneficial conversations with your child. Or you can insert yourself as this force who’s just going to come down hard on your children and convince them, no dad, or mom is not a safe source to talk to. So, see this as an opportunity, respond very gently, respond compassionately to your child, try to have those conversations, even awkward conversations. Try and find out why are they asking these questions, why do they want to have this knowledge and then just provide a compelling answer for them. Be willing to introduce things a little bit before you think they’re ready, but just respond to them, to their desires, to their knowledge in that way, or their desire for knowledge in that way.

And then, I guess, just expect these things will happen. Respond to them by now seeing, okay my child has looked for this, now is my opportunity to talk about how we gain knowledge and where we’re going to go to gain knowledge. So in the future, when there’s other questions about maybe more serious topics or things that could lead to even worse search results, now hopefully they’ll come to me instead of the internet. And maybe this is the time to put some device, some Circle device or something like that between my child and the world that will monitor what they’re doing. Or Covenant Eyes that will stand between them and the world. So, they’re not just freely searching for things, but there’s some filtering there that can keep them from some of the worst. So, this is your time to respond compassionately and technologically. But just remember, our default is when technology causes a problem, we think technology ought to solve that problem and so the response we don’t want is to just say, okay, my child has done that, now I need some technological solution that will keep him from doing it again. No, speak to your child. Respond to your child personally and then put technology in as well.

So there we go. Obviously what I’m saying here is geared primarily to young people, not 18-year-olds who are hardened in their sin and looking for porn, but younger kids who have interest, who have questions they’re asking and now taking those questions to the internet. Hopefully, that helps you as a parent respond compassionately and also effectively in being that source of knowledge, that source of wisdom who can guide your children as they grow up, hopefully as they grow up in Christ.