Guarding Young Eyes

July 29 issue feature: Internet Company Keeps Catholic Families Safe Online

(photo: Covenant Eyes Facebook)

In May 2012, Ryan Foley joined Covenant Eyes, a software company that provides Internet accountability and filtering. He is the company’s vice president for business development.

What do you want to convey to Catholic families?
Society is embracing pornography, and it’s shocking — because we’re seeing the statistical impact on the family, the effects on the brain — and yet for some reason we’re not fighting it with the same enthusiasm as we do other issues. My experience with a lot of Catholic families is they haven’t taken seriously what’s happening in our society as it relates to pornography. Even though this is destroying marriages, we don’t talk about it. We deal with the outcomes in confession and in addiction groups, but we’re not trying to get ahead of it. If the parents do anything, they might turn on some free filter or enable basic parental controls, and that’s good. But there are a lot of limitations to it and a lot of ways to get around filters and simple controls, which kids can figure out.

There’s an onus on parents to get involved more than they would have had to 15 or 20 years ago. If you don’t, you’re not being the safe neighbor; you’re the weak link in the school, the parish, the community.

Parents have the biggest influence on what their kids do online, but 34% of children never receive advice from parents on how they should or should not use the Internet. We wouldn’t give our kids the keys to the car before instructing them how to drive and the dangers to watch out for. Why, then, would we not provide proper instruction and care with regards to Internet use, particularly when the negative effects could have eternal consequences?

Talk about the effects of pornography on marriages.
The effects of porn use within marriage are devastating. Today, over half of divorce cases involve one party having an obsessive interest in Internet porn. In addition to the natural loss of trust, studies have also shown that porn consumers eventually begin to compare their spouse with images of porn models. This in turn lowers their judgments about the attractiveness of "average people."

Dr. Mary Anne Layden [director of education at the Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania] in her studies concluded that as people become more and more entrenched in pornography, this ends up only deluding and deadening their libido. Pornography use and the mis-education it provides about human sexuality are in direct conflict to what we know and have learned from works like Blessed John Paul II’s theology of the body.

How does Covenant Eyes work?
Covenant Eyes provides a Web content rating software that analyzes websites in real time, giving them an age-based rating that eliminates the guesswork for parents and blocks content based on those ratings. Parental controls can be placed on user access and protocols (i.e. FTP, Newsgroups). Online activity reports provide accountability (between parents and kids/friends and spouses) and enable positive conversations about Internet safety and teaching opportunities that filtering alone does not facilitate. The software is available across fixed and mobile platforms.

Parents need to look at all areas of media use in the home. Most electronic devices purchased today are Wi-Fi enabled and can therefore access the Internet. At Covenant Eyes we provide a parenting checklist that helps them consider how safe they as a family are, including such things as reviewing their children’s social-networking friends, status updates, blogs, images and music downloads.

What is "Safe House, Safe Neighbor"?
Safe House, Safe Neighbor is a new campaign dedicated to helping raise awareness of the Internet dangers that are having a negative impact on the family. The campaign started with the realization that the first step to stopping the porn epidemic begins at home. Parents have to learn the dangers relative to Internet activity and take seriously their role in protecting the family.

Keeping in mind that principle that there is safety in numbers, we wanted to develop a campaign that parents could introduce to each other without having to introduce it as an anti-porn campaign, which often comes with the assumption that a problem already exists.

As part of the campaign, we are building informational resources that parents can read and then share with each other. We’ve even created a new door decal that say’s "Protected by Covenant Eyes’ Safe House, Safe Neighbor." It provides a visible indication that the parents are taking responsible steps to protect kids. With few limitations being placed on the access to Internet pornography, families have to work together now and help each other.

What are your goals with Catholic schools and parishes?
In most cases, schools and parishes have secured their Wi-Fi networks. Where they struggle is with mobile devices that are brought on campus. If parents are not informed on the dangers of the Internet or educated on how to properly configure their children’s mobile devices, access to Internet pornography on campus can and does become an issue. Our goal, therefore, is to work in partnership with Catholic schools and parishes and to leverage their natural access to the family to provide education and concrete solutions to help them battle Internet pornography and other dangers in this media age. To do this, we establish a relationship with schools and parishes through our affiliate model. Once an affiliate, we are able to provide workshops for parents, promotional flyers or bulletin inserts, webinars and free downloadable resources from our website ( Covenant Eyes affiliates also receive a unique promotional code that families can use to obtain a free 30-day trial of Covenant Eyes. If a family decides to retain a subscription after the trial, a portion of their fee is shared with the affiliate school or parish.

Barb Ernster writes from Fridley, Minnesota.

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