Jonathon van Maren

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Dear parents: Here’s how to protect your kids from porn. You’re welcome.

Jonathon van Maren Jonathon van Maren Follow Jonathon

One of the great challenges of the Digital Age is that children often know more about navigating the online world than their parents do. Time and again, I meet parents who are stunned that their young child has stumbled upon pornography, all of them asking one question: How do we equip ourselves to deal with this?

That’s a complicated question, of course, but a new e-book from Covenant Eyes and provided to the public free of charge provides a lot of answers. Titled Parenting the Internet Generation, this book deals with everything from porn-proofing your home to talking to your children about pornography to combating the influence of secular sex-ed in schools. This book is timely, and this book is essential. To draw attention to this valuable resource, I interviewed the folks over at Covenant Eyes on why they worked so hard to bring this to parents.

What makes this book different from other books that instruct people how to porn-proof their home and their life?

There are many amazing resources. What differentiates Parenting the Internet Generation is two-fold. First, it includes practical questions, situations, and applications at every stage of the book, including questions to promote conversation around media literacy, sex ed, and technology, a parenting self-assessment, and videos for each chapter. Secondly, it points directly to the Gospel as the ultimate and only real solution for teaching our children how to navigate the digital age with wisdom and grace. In the words of the book, “Their greatest need in life is not good parents, a good understanding of sex, or a good sexual track record. Their greatest need in life in Jesus.”

I get the sense that this book highlights one fact that many do not even consider: The Internet is dangerous for more reasons than just porn. Is this the case?

Absolutely. The issues of bullying, sexual predators, the desire to be popular and pornography are nothing new – these are all “Old Testament” issues, but the Internet acts as an accelerant for all of them. Bullying now occurs 24/7 with a public record of the cruelty. Sexual predators can feed on an endless stream of scantily clad tween and teen girls who are naïve to what they are saying on doing on their favorite social media app. There are rules for taking selfies, with some kids taking over 100 pictures in order to find the right one that will receive the highest number of likes. These are just a few of the ways that technology takes old issues and accelerates them in new and damaging ways.

Many parents will have already installed Internet filters and will think now they are safe. Are they wrong?

Partially. Parental controls are necessary and good, but they do not replace good, Gospel-based parenting. Otherwise, parental controls simply become something a kid will try to beat. Kids need to understand the “why” and parents need to have frequent, “look in the eye” conversations about the technology experience. How kids use tech provides amazing insight into the cravings and desires of their hearts. The best parental control is the one that kids develop on the inside, where they have the tools to know the difference between right and wrong, and then make decisions based on that knowledge. Parental controls won’t teach this to kids – only good parents.

What advice do you have for how parents should deal with social media outlets that may provide access to pornographic material?

Wow, this is a big one. Most social media, including Instagram, Snapchat and others have no parental controls. This makes it almost impossible for parents to know what their kids might be searching for. In the absence of monitoring tools, it becomes necessary to call out these risks with kids and talk about them. For example, imagine a dad saying to his teenage son, “The truth is, you could hide a search for inappropriate things, and I would never know. But, I love you a ton, and I know that looking at those pictures can really mess with the way God has wired us as men. I want you to know that you can be honest if you ever bump into these kinds of things. It’s every guy’s battle, and I’m in this with you.” This creates an open dialogue, and everything that we keep in the light is easier to deal with. Sin can’t survive in the light.

Recently in Canada there’s been enormous controversy surrounding the Ontario Liberal government’s sex education curriculum. This book is so comprehensive that it even tackles how parents should talk to their children about sexuality. What will parents find helpful about the information you’ve included?

We’ve actually received questions from parents in Ontario about this curriculum through our blog. Parents often ask, “what is the right age to talk about sex, etc.” My response is usually, “I don’t know your exact child, but it’s probably earlier than you think.” I think this curriculum is forcing parents to talk to their kids earlier about tough topics, and that might not be a bad thing. Dr. Google is constantly informing our kids. Parents need to get in front of Google’s answers and provide their own answers to life’s tough questions. The e-book hopefully facilitates these conversations with talking sheets for every age.

The other things that parents might find helpful is that the e-book reminds parents that our original design, according to Genesis 1:27, is significant. It creates a foundation for our understanding of how sex and sexuality were supposed to be. If kids understand that God created male and female, and created sex as a great and wonderful thing when used properly, then no matter what curriculum they are taught, they can bounce it up against the original design, and ask critical questions.

How do you suggest parents should approach children on these very sensitive topics?

Every kid is different, and parents know their kids best. Use age-appropriate language, and often, kids are ready long before mom and dad are. A 6-year old knows if a picture is “weird” or “scary” or “creepy” and so use words like this to tee up the conversation about online pornography. In terms of sex education, if you have a naturally curious child, then he/she might be ready to talk about their bodies and how they are made sexually sooner than another child. Know your kids and tailor the conversation accordingly.

You also detail how to have conversations with children about technology. How did you come up with these guidelines?

These guidelines came primarily from the allies we’ve listed in the resource section of e-book, including Common Sense Media and Protect Young Eyes. These two sites make it their goal to equip parents with practical tools and information about apps, devices, and internet safety.  

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Jonathon van Maren

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Jonathon Van Maren is a public speaker, writer, and pro-life activist. His commentary has been translated into more than eight languages and published widely online as well as print newspapers such as the Jewish Independent, the National Post, the Hamilton Spectator and others. He has received an award for combating anti-Semitism in print from the Jewish organization B’nai Brith. His commentary has been featured on CTV Primetime, Global News, EWTN, and the CBC as well as dozens of radio stations and news outlets in Canada and the United States.

He speaks on a wide variety of cultural topics across North America at universities, high schools, churches, and other functions. Some of these topics include abortion, pornography, the Sexual Revolution, and euthanasia. Jonathon holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in history from Simon Fraser University, and is the communications director for the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform.

Jonathon’s first book, The Culture War, was released in 2016.