Last weekend I was a guest on Up for Debate on Moody Radio where we discussed whether or not Christian parents should send their children to public schools. I am not opposed to homeschooling or Christian schooling—not even a little bit—but do maintain that public schooling may also be a legitimate option for Christian families, and this is the perspective they asked me to represent. It is quite a controversial position in parts of the Christian world today.

As I prepared for the show I went back through my archives to find what I had written on the subject in the past. I found that I first wrote about it around eight years ago when my son was in first grade. Well, he is now just days away from his eighth grade graduation and this seems like an opportune time to revisit the subject and to ask, What have we learned in ten years of public schooling (which includes two years of kindergarten)? I spoke to Aileen and together we jotted down a bit of what we’ve learned from having three children in public schools. Here are ten lessons from ten years of public schooling.

1. Develop and Deepen Convictions

I often find that parents who put their children in public school are represented as being without convictions while parents who homeschool or who enroll their children in Christian schools are the ones with strong convictions. Admittedly, that is sometimes the case and if you are a person without convictions it is unlikely that you are homeschooling. But before Aileen and I put our children in school we developed and deepened our convictions about public schooling and these convictions allowed us to enroll our children with confidence and to keep them there with confidence. At the same time we have regularly revisited the subject to ensure that we have not grown complacent but are still following conviction. My encouragement to any parent considering any of the educational options is to develop and to deepen Bible-based convictions, and then to respond charitably to those whose convictions differ from your own.

2. It Is Possible

There is a lot of fear involved in parenting. There is an extra measure of fear in public schooling, and especially so when so many Christians warn of all you stand to lose if you allow your children to attend them. The gentlemen who represented homeschooling on the radio last weekend said he had statistics to prove that something like 83% of all Christian children who go to public school end up forsaking a Christian worldview. That is a scary statistic, though I am far from convinced it is accurate, at least when it comes to families who are Christian in more than name. By the grace of God, the last eight years have not ruined or harmed our children, at least as far as we can tell. I will grant that they are still quite young and have lots of growing up to do, but when we evaluate, we do not believe we made a bad decision all those years ago. We made that decision in light of biblical convictions, and we believe our experience has validated those convictions.

3. The Family Goes to Public School

The third lesson is this: You do not send your children to public school—you send your family. What I mean is that public schooling requires the participation of the parents which, in our experience, is something the school values just as much as we do. We have attempted to remain involved with the school and with its teachers. This means that my wife volunteers and spends at least one morning a week in the school and that both of us volunteer to go on class trips. Not only that, but we attempt to get to know our kids’ teachers and to interact with them through the year. They appreciate our involvement and we appreciate their support. This was one of our big takeaways from the excellent book Going Public.

4. Don’t Send Your Kids As Evangelists

One of the common reasons people send their children to public school is to allow them to be salt and light among their fellow students. However, this is a heavy burden to place on young children, and especially young children who are not yet believers. Children are not born believers and, therefore, cannot be expected to be evangelists until they are converted. We never placed that responsibility on their shoulders. (With all of that said, we have found that as our children show an interest in the gospel and become believers, they naturally become evangelists as well. As our kids have grown, they have had many excellent conversations with their fellow students and our kids have pillaged the house for Bibles to give away at school.)

5. Be Open To Alternatives

Aileen and I heed the old mantra, “A kid at a time, a school at a time, a year at a time.” We are not public schoolers by blind ideology and feel very willing to explore alternatives if and when it seems a wise course of action. My son’s graduation to high school has given us good reason to explore all the alternatives once more and we find ourselves seriously considering Christian high school. We public school best when we are willing to not public school.

6. It Takes a Church

It takes a congregation to raise a child. This is true whether your children are educated at home, in a Christian environment, or in public school. As my kids have gone through public school, they have also been deeply involved in a solid church where their peers and adults engage them and pursue them. When my children wrestle with spiritual issues, I find it a joy to be able to tell them to speak to their friends who are also my friends. Our church supports our educational choices by their involvement in our kids’ lives.

7. The Teachers Are Your Friends

We have encountered many teachers over the past ten years, and our experiences have almost all been very positive. It is easy to caricature teachers as being unapologetic leftists or vile perverts who are out to corrupt and destroy our children. But we have found that teachers love our kids and take joy in their success. When we have expressed concern over any part of the curriculum, the teachers have been very eager to show it to us and to ensure we are comfortable with it. In our experience the caricatures have been unfair. We do far better to regard the teachers as our friends and allies.

8. Prepare for Difficulty

I would be lying if I said public schooling has been wine and roses in every moment. There have been a number of difficult situations over the years—teachers who lacked skill or compassion, students who were cruel, ideology that contradicted our own, class trips that we chose to keep our children from attending. But we knew these situations would arise and while our preparation did not prevent them, it did allow us to respond appropriately and to walk our children through them. We have not had one situation yet that was outside God’s ability to use and redeem for good. So be prepared for difficulty, don’t be afraid of it, and don’t allow minor ones to drive you to despair.

9. We Are All Homeschoolers

Inviting the public school system to educate our children has not meant that we abdicate or outsource all responsibility or ultimately responsibility for the kids’ education. We remain involved in what they do, what they learn, the kids they befriend, and all the rest. Wherever or however children are receiving their education, they need their parents to be involved. Their parents have by far the loudest voice into their lives and, by looking to the Bible together, we can explore, explain and interpret anything that comes their way. We are all homeschoolers!

10. Enjoy It

We have few regrets with our decision—no more than we would have had if we had chosen an alternative, I’m sure. We have enjoyed the public schools and believe our kids have been blessed in and through them. If you are going to public school your kids, allow yourself to enjoy it—enjoy the schools, enjoy the teachers, enjoy the kids you’ll get to meet, and even enjoy the challenges. God can use them all.

(Please do note that our experience is our experience. We are who we are and where we are—in a particular context that is different from your own. We did not choose to put our children in public school outside of our own context. Had we lived elsewhere or had some of the particulars of our life been different, we may well have chosen a different course. What I mean to say is while we believe public school has been a good and viable option for us, we are firmly convinced that every family ought to make their own choice based on their unique circumstances.)

Image credit: Shutterstock

 

Imagine for a moment you lived in a sane world.   In this sane world, sin is truly sin.  People understand evil.  They cherish what is good for society, and they shun what is bad.

We do not live in such a world.  In our backwards world, we live in an era where the insane run the culture, and they are running it to an early death.

For instance, Dads are undeniably the cornerstone of a healthy family.  Not to discount mothers, but in a society where fathers are more likely to be absent, it is easier to measure the impact they have on children.  The studies prove this one point: Fathers, biological fathers, are essential to a healthy family.

A few months ago, I reported on a new study that shows the impact of fathers on the family.  The conclusion was simple, fathers do not give more parenting, they give a unique form of parenting that children need.

Study after study has proven this fact.  Study after study shows an engaged biological father is the best for the family.

And yet again, another study has come out exploring the added benefits a dad brings to the family.  Look at some of the findings from the Atlantic Magazine article by Dr. W. Bradford Wilcox from the University of Virginia and you find

  1.  “Teens with involved fathers were 98 percent more likely to graduate from college, and teens with very involved fathers were 105 percent more likely to graduate from college.”
  2. “Young adults from more privileged backgrounds are especially likely to have had an involved father in their lives as teens.”
  3. “Compared to children from single-parent homes, children who live with their fathers in an intact family have significantly lower rates of  incarceration and teenage pregnancy and higher rates of high school and college graduation.” 
  4. “Engaged fathers play an important role in “helping sons and daughters achieve independent and distinct identities” and that this independence often translates into educational and occupational success.”
  5.  “A U.S. Department of Education study found that among children living with both biological parents, those with highly involved fathers were 42 percent more likely to earn A grades and 33 percent less likely to be held back a year in school than children whose dads had low levels of involvement.

Slam dunk!  No doubt about it!  Biological fathers make a tremendous impact on kids.  But when there is overwhelming evidence for the need to have two biological parents in the home, why is the secular world ignoring these facts?

There are several reasons:

 

1.  There is an attack on masculinity in our culture

It starts when children are young and it progresses into adulthood.  Boys, by nature, are designed to be a little rougher, active, and with distinct characteristics as a boy.  In a research study my wife read to me a few years ago (Yes, we read to each other…. isn’t that cute?), it is shown that men and boys are distinctly different from girls (gasp).  In one example, the study showed that boys are more vocal so they are more likely to make noise.  Girls, on the other hand, are more sensitive to sound.  In a classroom setting, the boy is playing drums with his pencil, tapping his feet, and making noises with his mouth while driving the more sensitive girls crazy.  The teacher, who is often a female, can’t stand it either.

They see the boy as being annoying and disturbing the class when in reality, the boy merely is being a boy.

In a culture that demands we accept people “as they are born” when talking about sexuality, the society contradicts itself by demanding  the boy be medicated or we label him as a trouble maker.  His crime?  Being born a boy.

2.  The insane social agenda to accept all types of families.

Not all types of families are the same.  Not all types of families are healthy.  If you don’t like that assessment, don’t argue with me, argue with science and more importantly, argue with the Bible.  It is clear, different types of families are more healthy than others.

The social culture is trying to show that two fathers or two mothers are as healthy as a biological father and mother.  The fact remains, they are not. Because these studies go against the grain of the social agenda, people are pushing these facts aside.

This, by the way, is what an insane society does.  They continue to push for an irrational agenda because it fits their preferred social agenda.  They ignore the evidence, they ignore centuries of proven history, and they ignore God because they are just arrogant enough to believe they still must be right.  They are not!

3.  This study proves that men and women are different.

Let’s be real, boys and girls are different.  These differences are more than merely physical, they are different in a number of ways.  This is not bad, but God designed men and women to be compatible with one another.

The problem is that this does not fit the social agenda being advanced in our culture.  They believe that women are just as capable as men, just as talented as men, and just as intelligent as men.  Yet, this totally misunderstands what compatibility means.  I am not saying I am more capable, talented, or intelligent than my wife.  In fact, in all three areas I believe I am the inferior in our relationship.

What I am saying is that her femaleness and my maleness are distinct and different, making us compatible to each other.

The irrational sociopathic groups are adamant that any distinction made is an attack on women.  Despite the evidence proving otherwise, they want to live in their insane world where, despite the facts, they believe women and men are distinct only  because of their physical make-up.

This is insane, but the political and social pressure is to deny the facts.

4.  They have a homosexual agenda

You cannot deny there is a push among many in the cultural centers of our day for complete acceptance of homosexuality.  Many are not allowing for any disagreement on the issue in the public sphere.  Whether you are the CEO of Mozilla and donated to help pass a marriage law in California, an athlete who expresses his disgust at a homosexual kiss on Twitter, a baker who desires not to bake for a homosexual wedding, or the Boy Scouts somewhat “compromise” on the homosexual issue, the cultural leaders of our day demand full acceptance and no compromise.

Evidence like what has been presented in his article goes against the clear agenda to uplift homosexuality.  Evidence like this goes against the narrative.

As a result, when a study shows that fathers are a necessity to a healthy family, they ignore it, hide it, and jettison science, the Bible, and history for their own insane approach to the world.

There is no doubt, children are better off in a family with a biological father and mother, but some people don’t want you to know this little secret because it doesn’t fit their agenda.

Parent-Child BondMonday morning. 5:40. Cup of coffee. My desk in a corner of the basement. Life is good. And this morning I find myself pondering the fact that my kids are getting older. It is inevitable, of course, but what once felt like a crawl to adulthood seems like it has become a sprint. Just this weekend my youngest turned eight years old—no longer a little kid. She’s become too big to pick up and toss around. Or maybe I’ve just become too weak to even try. She rarely comes over to me anymore to plant herself on my lap for no other purpose than that she needs a cuddle and the reassurance it brings. Maybe she doesn’t understand that I need the cuddles too.

It was with a twinge of remorse that I realized I can’t relate to her as a little kid any more. For so long our love language has been the language of absurdities: “Mommy says you don’t want birthday presents this year, so mommy and I are going to use the money to go out on a date.” We used to have such fun with these, teasing one another back and forth with increasingly absurd statements. Now all I get is rolled eyes and the one-word exasperated exclamation, “Daddy!” I guess it’s time to stop, time to find something new, time to learn a new language.

I also have a son who is choosing the high school he will go to next year, and a sixteen-year old girl (well, she’s actually eleven years old, but she may as well be sixteen). And at this phase of life, I am finding parenting so easy and so difficult all at once. I am finding parenting such a joy, but a joy that is mixed with new kinds of sorrow. I know now that there are some kinds of sorrow a parent can only experience as his children grow up and grow older. There’s the sorrow of missing what they used to be, and the sorrow of seeing them make the same mistakes I made once upon a time.

Parenting was grueling in the phase dominated by midnight bottles, night terrors, and endless dirty diapers. It was grueling but predictable. It was exhausting, but primarily on the physical level. We didn’t have to serve as counselors and psychiatrists. If we were up late into the night, it was to walk and bounce a baby to sleep, not to counsel a heartbroken little girl about cruel words blurted by her best friend. What kept us awake and sleepless were the cries of simple gas cramps or hunger pains, not the cries of emotional pain following a bad decision. When a toddler crosses boundaries it may require a brief and simple punishment; when a teenager crosses boundaries the result may be much longer-lasting, much more complicated, much more sorrowful.

Aileen and I pray as we crawl into bed at the end of the day. We try to, at least. This used to be our time to ask the Lord to keep our children healthy, to give us wisdom to know how to train them in obedience, to help keep us from growing exasperated with another late night and another two-in-the-morning diaper change. Simple stuff in retrospect. Raw and real, but simple.

Now when we pray we are asking the Lord to give our kids wisdom to negotiate the problems they have caused in their own lives because of their own immaturity and foolishness. We are asking the Lord to give us and wisdom as we consider issues that will have a life-long bearing: Christian high school or public high school? Computer science (the route with the great career possibilities) or history (the route that inspires both joy and passion)? We are asking the Lord to give our children patience and godly character as they learn to live in the presence of those who are spiteful and mean. We are asking the Lord to give our children godly character to go along with their profession of faith in Christ.

The Lord was so good and so kind to us through the little kid phase. It was difficult at times and there were days or even weeks at a time when we went through life with that dead-eyed look you see in so many new parents—parents whose children have kept them up too late every night for a month. But God was with us and he worked in us. We grew in faith and love not despite this time but through and because of this time. We have no doubt that he will do the same as we parent bigger kids and teenagers.

But I do miss playing with them. Not pushing toys around the living room floor. I’ve never been able to tolerate the kind of playing and am almost always able to intercept it with, “How about daddy reads you a story instead?” It’s the playful playing, the absurd playing, the nonsense playing. The kind of playing only little kids and their parents enjoy.

Life is good. Parenting is a joy (when it’s not agony). God is sovereign. And now it is time to wake them one-by-one, to rouse them for devotions, to get them their breakfast, to send them to school. Suddenly that most mundane of routines seems like it may be the most important thing I do today.

 

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 34, sermon number 2,027, “The sluggard's farm.”

“If you are slothful, friend, look over the field of your heart, and weep at the sight.” 

May I ask you to look into your own house and home? It is a dreadful thing when a man does not cultivate the field of his own family.

I recollect in my early days a man who used to walk out with me into the villages when I was preaching. I was glad of his company till I found out certain facts, and then I shook him off, and I believe he hooked on to somebody else, for he must needs be gadding abroad every evening of the week.

He had many children, and these grew up to be wicked young men and women, and the reason was that the father, while he would be at this meeting and that, never tried to bring his own children to the Saviour. What is the use of zeal abroad if there is neglect at home? How sad to say, “My own vineyard have I not kept.”

Have you never heard of one who said he did not teach his children the ways of God because he thought they were so young that it was very wrong to prejudice them, and he had rather leave them to choose their own religion when they grew older?

One of his boys broke his arm, and while the surgeon was setting it the boy was swearing all the time. “Ah,” said the good doctor, “I told you what would happen. You were afraid to prejudice your boy in the right way, but the devil had no such qualms; he has prejudiced him the other way, and pretty strongly too.”

It is our duty to prejudice our field in favour of corn, or it will soon be covered with thistles. Cultivate a child’s heart for good, or it will go wrong of itself, for it is already depraved by nature. Oh that we were wise enough to think of this, and leave no little one to become a prey to the destroyer.

 


Porn-Free Family

I am a father of three children who are fully part of the digital generation. They are as comfortable with iPods as I am with a paperback and have only ever known a world where almost all of us have cell phones with us at all times, where Facebook is a teenager’s rite-of-passage, where every home has five or ten or twenty devices that can access the rest of the world through the Internet. Yet I know of the dangers that are lurking out there, waiting to draw them in.

I want to protect my children in a world like this, but I want to do more than that. I want to disciple my children to live virtuously, to use these new technologies for good purposes instead of bad ones. I believe this is a crucial part of my calling as a parent. To address this great need, I have put together what I call The Porn-Free Family Plan. It is a plan designed to protect my children from online dangers so that I can train them to use their devices and technologies well.

The Porn-Free Family Plan

A thorough plan needs to account for three types of device:

  • Fixed devices. These are the devices will only ever be used in the home. Here we have desktop computers in the home office or Internet-enabled televisions and gaming consoles. Parents can have a significant level of control over these devices.
  • Mobile devices. These are the laptops, tablets, smart phones and other devices that can be used in the home but also carried out of the home and used elsewhere. Parents can have as lesser degree of control over these devices.
  • Other people’s devices. These are the computers children may use at another person’s home or the tablets other children may show to their friends. Parents can have no control over these devices.

In all of this there are two broad goals: To prevent those who want to find pornography and to protect those who do not want to find it but who may otherwise find themselves exposed to it, to confound those who want to see porn and to shield those who don’t. And while the plan is geared specifically to combat pornography, it will also help battle other online dangers.

The Porn Free Family Plan has four steps: Plan, Prepare, Meet and Monitor.

Plan

You’ve heard the old maxim: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. The maxim applies well to what we are attempting to accomplish here. A successful plan will need to account for every device in your home that combines an Internet connection with a screen. So let’s get to work.

Step 1: Inventory
You need to know exactly how many Internet-enabled devices you have in your home. To do this, you will need to take an inventory. Make a list of all your Internet-enabled devices: desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smart phones. Don’t forget the Playstation 3, Xbox, smart televisions, Apple TVs, iPods, and e-reader tablets. Even a Kindle reading device has basic web-browsing capabilities. A family recently reported that after doing this they were shocked to learn they had 22 devices to account for!

Step 2: Budget
Decide whether you are able to make Internet security a regular and recurring monthly expense. Where it used to cost money to access pornography, today it often costs money to avoid it. While there are free options available, the best services have a cost associated with them. A budget of $20-$25 per month will allow a family to take advantage of the premier options.

Step 3: Learn
Now that you have taken your inventory and have a better grasp of the devices your plan needs to account for, it is time to learn about the options available to protect those who use them. There are four broad categories of protection we have available:

  • Filtering. Filtering proactively detects and blocks objectionable content. (Examples: If your child does an Internet search for “naked girls,” it will block the search; If your child mistakenly clicks a link to a pornographic web site, it will block access to the site.)
  • Accountability. Accountability software tracks web sites visited from different devices and then prepares and delivers regular reports. (Example: If your child visits a pornographic web site or performs a search for “naked girls,” the accountability software will note it and include it in a report emailed to you.)
  • Parental controls. Parental controls block certain functions of modern devices (Examples: Preventing the use of the Internet browser on an iPod Touch; preventing the use of the Facebook app on a tablet).
  • Communication. We cannot rely on technology to solve all of our problems, so the plan must also involve regular, deliberate and open communication.

Because none of these offers complete protection, the wise plan must use some combination of all four. The Porn-Free Family plan uses the following tools:

  • OpenDNS. OpenDNS uses filtering to automatically block objectionable web sites for every device connected to your home network. It is activated by making a small change to the settings on your existing router.
  • Covenant Eyes. Covenant Eyes tracks the web sites visited by your computers and mobile devices and sends regular email reports; it also offers optional filtering that can be configured specifically for each member of your family.
  • Parental Controls. Parental controls allow parents to disable certain functions on devices.
  • Meetings. The most indispensable tool is regular, open, deliberate communication between parents and their children.

Step 4: Discuss
Before you begin to implement the plan, it may be a good idea to meet with your family to explain what you are about to do and what you hope to accomplish by it. You will be inconveniencing your family and putting rules in place that will impact them, so it may be wise to discuss these things with them.

Prepare

Let’s get started in putting that plan in place. This will take a couple of hours, so set aside the time, brew yourself a coffee, and get to it!

Step 1: Create Passwords
Master password. At the very top of the list is creating your master password. Your whole plan may fail if you choose a bad password or fail to protect it. Make it good (something that is difficult to guess and combines letters with numbers) and make sure you store it somewhere safe if you are not certain you will remember it. You may also need to create a 4-digit master password for mobile devices.

Family passwords. You also need to create a password for every other person in your home. Create passwords that will be easy for them to remember, but hard for others to guess. Every child needs to know his own password and only his own password. Make sure you record these passwords somewhere safe. If your children use mobile devices, you may also need to create mobile passwords for your children—usually 4-digit codes. Once again, make sure you know these codes and make sure you store them somewhere safe.

Step 2: Sign Up & Create Accounts
With your passwords in place, it is time to sign up for the services you will be using.

OpenDNS. We will begin by signing up for OpenDNS.

  • Visit OpenDNS (www.opendns.com) and look for their Parental Control Solution. OpenDNS Family Shield is a great place to begin (Alternatively, OpenDNS Home VIP is the optional, premier solution and costs $19.95 per year).
  • Create a user account for yourself using your master password.
  • Take a look at the different filtering options and set the ones appropriate for your family. Whatever you set here will apply to every device that accesses the Internet through your home network.
  • Note: It would be best to set the filter to block more rather than less, and to loosen it if and when you find that it is blocking too many sites.

Covenant Eyes. You have signed up for your filtering; now it’s time to sign up for the accountability software.

  • Visit Covenant Eyes (www.covenanteyes.com) and create an account using your master password.
  • Add each member of your family as a user and assign the password you created for each of them.
  • Sign up each user for accountability monitoring and have the reports sent to your email address every 3 to 7 days. Choose an accountability level appropriate to their age and maturity.
  • If you would like to have user-specific filtering in addition to the general filtering with OpenDNS, configure that as well. Choose a filtering level appropriate to each person’s age and maturity. It may also be wise to disable Internet access during certain times (Example: Disable all Internet access for your children after 9 PM and before 7 AM).
  • Note: It is best to set the filter and accountability to block and report more and to relax the filtering levels only if and when it is proving cumbersome.

Computers. Now you need to create user accounts on each of your computers and laptops (and tablets if they allow multiple users).

  • For every computer in your home you will need to create an account for each person who uses it. This means that if there are five people in your family and they each use the family computer, you will need to create five accounts—one for each of them.
  • Create an account for yourself using your master password and ensure that you have administrator privileges.
  • Then create a user account for each family member using the password you created for them; make sure that they do not have administrator privileges.

Let me offer a warning: This step can be laborious, especially if you have multiple computers. Persevere!

Step 3: Install Software
Now that we have created our accounts, we can install and activate OpenDNS and Covenant Eyes.

Install OpenDNS on your router. OpenDNS is activated with a simple change on your home router and managed through an online interface at www.opendns.com. You will need to refer to OpenDNS to learn how to change the appropriate settings. As soon as you do this, your filtering will be activated. Just like that, you are already beginning to protect your family.

Install Covenant Eyes on every laptop and desktop computer in your home. Visit www.covenanteyes.com, log in to your account, download the appropriate software, and install it. Log in to each account on each computer and ensure that the Covenant Eyes software is running properly (look for the “open eye” icon).

Mobile Devices. If you have decided to allow browser access on your mobile devices, install the Covenant Eyes browser on those devices (typically by visiting an app store and downloading the app). Note: If you wish to have Covenant Eyes on your mobile devices, you will also need to use parental controls (see below) to block access to any other browser on those devices.

Gaming Consoles. Remove Internet browser access on all gaming consoles. Also consider removing access to YouTube, Netflix and other video sites.

Other Devices. Return to your inventory list and see what other devices you need to account for. Your plan will only be as strong its weakest point.

Step 4: Apply Parental Controls
Set parental controls on all mobile devices. To make this effective on devices owned by your children, you will need to set a parental control password and use this password to ensure only you have access to the parental controls. Here are the settings I recommend for devices used by children:

  • Ensure devices lock as soon as they are no longer in use.
  • Turn off web browsing. If your children need web browsing, install the Covenant Eyes browser and use parental controls to block access to all other browsers.
  • Turn off the ability to install new apps without inputting your password.
  • Turn off the ability to change their own password or account information.
  • Consider turning off Facebook, Twitter and other social media apps (since these apps often have a built-in browser that will allow them to visit web sites while bypassing all accountability software).
  • Consider turning off the camera access if you are concerned that your child may misuse. Be especially cautious with applications that combine social media with a camera (Snapchat, Instagram, etc).

Congratulations! You made it through. You know what devices are in the home, and you have accounted for each one by installing filtering and accountability software. There is just one problem: Everyone in your family is upset with you! So now it is time for that family meeting.

Meet

We tend to believe that problems caused by technology can be solved by more technology. However, what is stronger, better, and longer-lasting than even the best technology, is character. The family meeting is where you discuss and emphasize the importance and the growth of character.

I suggest having an occasional family-wide meeting to discuss the system, and regular one-on-one meetings with your children to ask them specific questions and ask for specific feedback.

Step 1: The Family Meeting
The actual content of the family meeting will depend to some degree on the age of your children. Here are some ideas for talking points:

  • Concern. Because of your concern for their well-being, you have taken actions to protect them as they use the Internet. Explain that you do not view your children as criminals or porn addicts, but that you do wish to protect them from online dangers. Depending on the age of your children, this may be a good time to explain that there are so many people who struggle with pornography that they may need to expect that some day they will face the temptation as well.
  • Privacy. Your children—and especially young children—should have no expectation of privacy when they use their devices. They should know that you will have liberty to check their devices without their permission and that their online actions will generate reports that you intend to monitor. You are doing this in order to love and protect them.
  • Passwords. Everyone needs to know the importance of passwords and that you expect them to protect theirs. They may not share their passwords with their siblings or their friends.
  • Readiness. You need to speak to your children about Internet safety outside the home. Talk to them about what to do if they are accessing devices in other people’s homes. Explain to them what they should do if someone shows them pornographic or otherwise inappropriate material.
  • Mom and Dad. If you have decided to hold yourself to the same standards—to use filtering and accountability software (something I recommend!)—this is a good time to explain that to the children.

Step 2: One-on-One Meetings
Parents and their children will benefit tremendously from having regular discussions about online dangers and concerns. The conversations will vary a great deal depending on the age and maturity level of the child. Here are some questions you may consider asking:

  • Are you able to access everything you need to access online?
  • Are you feeling tempted to look for things online that you know you shouldn’t look for?
  • Do you know if your friends are looking at pornography and talking about it?
  • Have you looked at pornography since the last time we met?

I trust you have prepared yourself for some push-back and some frustration, especially at the beginning. Your children will probably find that they cannot access certain sites or that they need to input passwords where before they did not. Your spouse may find that she cannot access certain sites she wants to. Persevere, and address each issue as it arises.

Monitor

The plan is in place, and your family is now benefiting from some level of protection. But this not a plan you can set in place and simply leave to run its course. It requires monitoring and maintenance.

  • Covenant Eyes Reports. Covenant Eyes will send you regular reports. Do not expect these reports to be as helpful as you want them to be. You will need to take some time—two or three minutes—to look carefully over the report looking for anything that seems amiss. Follow-up with any of your children whose report shows a red flag.
  • OpenDNS Reports. OpenDNS also collects reports, including pages and searches it has blocked. While you will not know who is responsible for these blocks, you would do well to keep an eye on them, to look for patterns, and so on.
  • Adjust. As your children grow older you may find that you need to adjust their privileges. You may also find that as they grow older they face greater temptations which will require fewer privileges. Be willing to adjust accordingly.
  • Maintain. Covenant Eyes updates their software on a regular basis. As they do this, you will want to install the new updates.

Conclusion

And that’s the Porn-Free Family Plan. It takes a couple of hours of hard work to set up, but it is time well-invested. Even then, this plan is not fool-proof—no plan is completely fool-proof. There will be ways around it for those committed to finding those ways. Covenant Eyes will occasionally block something harmless; OpenDNS will sometimes fail to filter something that obviously ought to be filtered. Yet the plan will suffice for most families in most circumstances. You are well on your way to training and protecting your children.

I hear it so, so often: “Help! My kids are looking at porn!” A few days ago one mom wrote to say that she and her husband had allowed their young teenaged boys access to the Internet to play an online video game, thinking they had taught and trained the boys well enough that they would be able to resist whatever temptation they encountered out there. They were wrong, and had just learned that for the past four months, when mom and dad left the house for a date or to run some errands, the boys had been looking at pornography. What should they do? How should they respond?

I have dedicated a lot of attention over the past several years to the battle against pornography and would like to offer a two-part answer. Today I will address the immediate response and tomorrow I want to help you put together a plan that will protect your family in the future, both preventing those who want to look at porn and protecting those who don’t yet know that it exists.

For today, here are some suggestions for how to respond when you learn that your children have been looking at or looking for pornography.

Don’t Despair

Different parents react in different ways when it comes to their children and pornography. Some treat it in a matter-of-fact manner while others respond with more emotion and can find themselves on the brink of utter despair. Guard yourself against those depths of despair. While this situation is difficult and painful, it does not mean the world is ending; it does not necessarily mean your children are unsaved and certainly does not mean they are unsaveable. By looking at porn they have opened up a window to their heart and you now have the opportunity to address it in a helpful way. Despair will only interfere with your ability to do this effectively.

Be Careful with Shame

There may be a tendency to compound shame upon shame, to want to ensure that your kids are feeling the shame they ought to feel. But be careful with shame. Our goal is to have the Holy Spirit convict your children of their guilt more than to have mom and dad make them feel a deep shame. It is very possible that you are feeling embarrassed or feeling a sense of failure as a parent, and this may lead you to be harsher than you ought to be. Your goal is not to convict your children of their shame before mom and dad, but to assist the Holy Spirit as he convicts them of their guilt before God.

Ask Questions

Whatever else you do, you need to communicate with your kids. It is easy for a parent to assume he knows why his children have been looking at pornography, but I’ve learned over the years that there are a host of reasons. Some children look at porn purely out of lust and curiosity; some do it primarily to fuel masturbation; some do it out of a desire to be disobedient and act out against the authority figures in their life; some do it out of a response to abuse they’ve suffered in the past. Where the temptation will be to bludgeon your children with reasons they should not look at porn, your time will be spent far more effectively if you are able to slow down, ask lots of questions, and engage them in conversation. Find out what the allure is. Find out what need it seems to be meeting. Prepare for uncomfortable discussions about topics you don’t want to discuss, like masturbation and even abuse. Don’t let their bad behavior distract you from addressing their hearts.

Go to the Gospel

I said earlier that by looking at pornography your children have opened up a window into their hearts. They’ve opened it up and shone a spotlight onto a particular sin. They’ve shown that they are dissatisfied, that they are lustful, that they are disobedient to God and to their parents. And that’s just who the gospel is for—for the dissatisfied and lustful and disobedient. All of this presents a powerful opportunity to get straight to the gospel. The gospel offers them forgiveness, but it also offers them hope that they can overcome this sin, that they can be rescued from the guilt of the sin, that they can find a deeper and more lasting satisfaction than what pornography promises. As always, the heart is the heart of the matter.

Plead With Them

I believe that as a parent you have many opportunities to teach your children, but only a few opportunities to really plead with them. This is a time to plead with them, to plead for their lives and to plead for their souls. You are older and wiser than your children, you understand the Bible more than your children, and you know the long-term cost of a commitment to sexual sin. If ever there is a time to plead with them for their life and for their souls, this is it. Allow Solomon to give you your words:

And now, O sons, listen to me,
and do not depart from the words of my mouth.
Keep your way far from her,
and do not go near the door of her house,
lest you give your honor to others
and your years to the merciless,
lest strangers take their fill of your strength,
and your labors go to the house of a foreigner,
and at the end of your life you groan,
when your flesh and body are consumed,
and you say, “How I hated discipline,
and my heart despised reproof!
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
or incline my ear to my instructors.
I am at the brink of utter ruin
in the assembled congregation.” (Proverbs 5:6-14)

You are battling not just for personal purity, but for their lives. Plead with them to save their lives and to save their souls!

Take Measured Action

By looking at pornography your children have violated your trust and shown themselves unworthy of it. That trust will need to be earned and regained over a period of time as they prove themselves responsible and obedient. You will need to be actively involved in training your children to use their privileges well and to use the Internet and their digital devices without this kind of behavior. You need a plan that will account for their devices and their lack of Christian character. I will turn to this plan tomorrow.

7 Things a Good Father Says

I think I may be leaving one phase of fatherhood behind even while I enter into another. My youngest child is just about to turn eight, which means that we are not only past the baby and toddler stages, but even nearing the end of the little kid phase. Meanwhile my oldest child has turned fourteen and is just months away from high school. All this change has caused me to think about fatherhood and the new challenges coming my way. I have found myself thinking back to the many models of fatherhood I have seen and admired through the years. What made these fathers admirable? What set them apart? What was it that they said to their children? From these models I have drawn seven things a good father says.

I love you. Few things are more important to a child than knowing where he stands with his parents. As I think back to my childhood, I remember several friends who lived with uncertainty in their relationship with their parents, and their fathers especially. They longed to hear words of love and approval. But I saw other kids who had total confidence in that love and approval. Often the difference was little more than three simple words repeated regularly: “I love you.” Men can be so petty, so prideful, and hold back those words. Yet there is no good reason for it. The more awkward it feels, the more urgent it is. From the dads I admire I’ve learn that a father needs to say, “I love you,” and he needs to say it often.

Let me kiss it better. Even as a young child I remember observing two different kinds of fathers in my church. When children fell and scraped their knees, there were two ways I saw dads react. Some fathers would pick up their children, set them back on their feet, and tell them to get over it. “You’re fine. Walk it off!” They wanted their soft children to toughen up. There were other fathers who would pick up their children, hold them in their arms, make a show of extending comfort, and say, “Let me kiss it better.” These were fathers who wanted their hard children to soften up. Sure, there are times to tell your child to walk it off, but there are far more times to extend love and concern through those childhood bumps and bruises and through the bigger sins and mistakes that come with age. From the dads I admire I’ve learned the value of saying, “Let me kiss it better” (though, obviously, as the children get older the wording changes!).

Come with me. There is so much in life that can be better caught than taught. Often the best way to train up a child is to let that child into your life. One father I admire taught me the distinction between being face-to-face with my children and being shoulder-to-shoulder. I saw this shoulder-to-shoulder parenting in my own father who often brought me with him on his errands or, even better, to his work. This allowed me to see the value of putting in a hard day’s work, and the value of building relationships with clients, suppliers, and so many others. It allowed me to see that work was an extension of the rest of life, and not a part of life that exists all on its own. The fathers I have admired are the fathers who say to their children, “Come with me,” and who welcome them into their day-to-day lives.

Please forgive me. Every father sins against every one of his children. He probably does it every day. Sadly, sin is every bit as inevitable as death and taxes. Fathers need to be in the habit of identifying their sin to their children and asking forgiveness. But as I think back, I saw this and heard of this in so few fathers. There are only a few I knew to consistently identify their sin and seek forgiveness for it. As I consider my fourteen years of parenting, I see far too little of it as well. The practice seems so much more difficult than the theory. The good dad is the one who humbly, carefully says to his children, “Please forgive me.”

You’re forgiven. Just as every father sins against every one of his children, every child sins against his father. The father who asks forgiveness also needs to be willing to extend forgiveness. Every father punishes his child at times, but too many fathers punish in the worst way—by holding a grudge or by letting the child suffer as dad withholds forgiveness and reconciliation. Our children need to be forgiven and they need to experience the joy of reconciliation. Here I think of a father I know—a father I admire—who taught me that a good dad doesn’t just say, “It’s okay,” but always goes further to say, “You’re forgiven.”

Let’s pray. There is one father I admire whom I have only met in the pages of books he has written. Of all he has written, what has gripped me most is the ways in which he prays with his children. He reserves special time each week for each child and in that time he inquires about their souls and prays with them. That sounds like a wonderful practice. And in the rhythm of daily life with all its ups and downs he is also quick to lead them in seeking God’s strength, God’s help, God’s wisdom. Here he teaches them the best and deepest kind of dependency on the best and greatest Help in the world. I have learned from him that the good dad is quick to say, “Let’s pray.”

You can’t do it. We live at a time when parents are known for being extravagant in their praise for their children and assuring them, “You can do anything.” But the good dad assures his children that in the most important area, they can’t do it. They simply can’t. One of the great challenges every Christian father faces is in showing his child that behavior is a reflection of the heart and that the child cannot simply will himself into heart change. And this is where the gospel becomes so precious, because it begins with that inability, leads straight to the blood and righteousness of Christ, and then to the enabling of the Holy Spirit. The dads I love and admire are the dads who assure their children, “You can’t do it,” and who quickly lead them to the gospel and to the Savior who can.

I am eager to hear what you have learned from good fathers. So, following roughly the same format, tell me what you’ve heard a good father say…

Designer Babies

The headline says it all: “The Dawn of the Designer Babies.” Scientists have developed a new technology meant to eliminate genetic abnormalities in newborns. They do this by combining the DNA of three people instead of only two. The procedure has been successfully tested in monkeys and now the FDA is considering whether the trial should expand to humans. At first the procedure would be available only to women who are likely to pass on debilitating genetic diseases to their children. After that? Well, we can only imagine.

The history of technology shows that we would far rather ask the “can we?” questions than the “should we?” questions. We are more interested in ability than morality. Lest we get cocky, we ought to admit that this is true in the small picture as much as the big picture, in the living room as much as the laboratory. Our relationship to technology is such that on some level we tacitly believe technology’s gifts to us must be good. We believe this when the new social network or the new cell phone comes along and we believe this when the new experimental procedure comes along.

According to Fox, this new “experimental technique, if approved for use, would allow a woman to give birth to a baby who inherits her normal nucleus DNA but not her defective mitochondrial DNA.” In order “to accomplish this, researchers would remove the nucleus DNA from a healthy female donor’s eggs and replace it with the nucleus DNA of the prospective mother. After fertilization, the resulting child would inherit the mother’s nucleus DNA — which contains most inherited traits like eye color and height — but the donor’s healthy mitochondrial DNA.”

On a pragmatic level, this makes all kinds of sense. It promises to further eliminate diseases and abnormalities, goals that are well within our God-given mandate of filling this earth and exercising dominion over it. On an ethical and spiritual level it is troubling. The slippery slope implications are especially disquieting because this same technology could be used to craft custom-built, designer children, a specific combination of traits according to the parent’s specifications. Once we allow designer children, we will not be far from expecting designer children. Once we can eliminate genetic abnormalities, it will not be long before we should eliminate genetic abnormalities, where it is considered downright cruel not to eliminate them. When this happens, the disabled and those who brought them into the world will be further marginalized. We could discuss the implications all day long.

But I want to make narrower observations. It never ceases to amaze me how the world breaks down when people will not look to the Bible in order to gain God’s perspective on matters like these. The Bible assures us we are so marred by sin and so full of ourselves, that in order to know ourselves, in order to know God, and in order to know how to live in this world, we must gain God’s perspective through his Word. When we read and believe and obey and trust the Bible, our outlook is absolutely transformed. We are given God’s eyes to see this world.

This is exactly the case when it comes to designer babies, because here’s the thing: The Bible tells that we already have designer babies, children custom-crafted by an all-good and all-knowing God. This is true if our babies are exactly the way we had wished and imagined and it is true if our babies are the very opposite of what we had wished and imagined. It is true if our babies are healthy and “normal” and it is true if our babies are unhealthy and severely disabled. They are all designer children.

We see this in John 9. There Jesus and his disciples pass by a man who has been blind since birth—a genetic abnormality, perhaps—and they ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus replied “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Jesus turns right away from the cause of the blindness to the purpose behind the blindness: the works of God. The glory of God. God. That is why this man was born this way: God. Piper says it well:

When there is a defective chromosome or some genetic irregularity in the sperm that is about to fertilize an egg, God can simply say no. He commands the winds. He commands the waves. He commands the sperm and the genetic makeup of the egg. If God foresees and permits a conception that he knows will produce blindness, he has reasons for this permission. And those reasons are his purposes. His designs. His plans. God never has met a child from whom he had no plan. There are no accidents in God’s mind or hands.

God does not display himself and his glory only through normalcy, but also through abnormality. God does not display himself only through ability, but also through inability and disability. God does not display himself only through strength, but also through weakness.

We do well to end suffering when we are able to. We do well to cure disease and eliminate curable pain. But we dare not step into God’s place as those who will design babies according to our plan rather than his. We dare not trust our goodness ahead of his goodness, our wisdom ahead of his wisdom. Sometimes God’s good and wise plans involve something we would not choose and would never design, such as a child with a severe genetic abnormality. But when we trust a good and wise God, we rejoice that the works of God might be displayed in all of these.

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from Able to the Uttermost, Pilgrim Publications, pages 96-97.

“A father hath joy in his children, and God hath joy in His children.”

And, indeed, it lies in the very marrow of the metaphor now before us. A man hath joy in his portion; so hath the Lord joy in His people. And you know that memorable passage; I scarcely ever dare to quote it without deep emotion, so wonderful a passage is it: “He shall rest in His love”—as if God found rest in loving His people—“He will joy over thee with singing.”

It is a wonderful passage. Have we not before told you that when God created the world the angels sang for joy. God did not sing: He said, “It is very good.” He spoke, and expressed His approbation, but I hear of no song. But now, in the new creation, when He sees His dear ones chosen before all worlds, for whom the only-begotten poured out His life-blood—when the Spirit of God sees His workmanship, it is written, “He shall joy over thee with singing.”

God singing! Can you catch the thought? This is sweeter than the angels’ song or than the song of all the beatified that surround the crystal throne. It is Jehovah Himself that sings—like a husband rejoicing over his bride, or a mother singing over her child.

For God hath joy in His people; Christ findeth satisfaction in the fruit of  His agonies, and the Holy Spirit takes delight to view the soul that He Himself hath formed anew. This is unspeakably precious, but it is true; the Lord finds delight in His people and enjoys them, for “the Lord’s portion is His people.”

And I believe, brethren, that the fruit that God looks for from us is our love. You do not expect your children to do anything for you, but you do expect them to love you, and you expect their gratitude. When their eyes sparkle, and their little lips almost incoherently tell you how thankful they are to you for your kindness, you rejoice in that. And praise is pleasant to God. He delights in the love of His people and in their thanksgiving.

And, moreover, fellowship with God is sweet to Him. For it is said of Jesus, “His delights were with the sons of men,” and all through the Song of Solomon the spouse represents Himself as ravished with the love of His beloved. Christ always speaks there of His Church as being able to communicate joy to Him by the sight of her fair face, and the words of her lips.

He says, “Let Me see thy face! Let Me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy face, and thy countenance is comely”—sweet to Him and comely to Him. Oh, dear children of God, rob not God of His fruit that comes of His portion. Give Him your love; give Him your fellowship; walk with Him as Enoch did; for this is Christ’s joy—that you should have joy in Him.