Chris McKenna likens today’s unfiltered internet to four magazines lying on a coffee table in every house in the country.
One of the four is explicitly pornographic.
“It’s right there, out in the open, and you just hope that’s not the one your child happens to pick up,” said Mr. McKenna, Catholic founder of Protect Young Eyes (protectyoungeyes.com), an organization that teaches families, schools and communities how to create safer digital spaces for young people.
National speakers from the Protect Young Eyes team will lead free informational workshops for adults at locations throughout the Jefferson City diocese on Oct. 16-18, 2023.
The topic will be “How to Create a Tech-Ready Home.”
“I emphasize to all parents who come to our talks that they have digital superpowers,” said Mr. McKenna. “Grandparents do, too.
“We’re going to show them how to use them,” he said.
Mr. McKenna pointed to a 2019 study by the Reward Foundation (rewardfoundation.org) that found just over 25 percent of video content on the unfiltered internet to be explicit.
“That’s what we have to guard against, prepare against, have conversations about, have policies against in our homes and in our communities,” he said.
He insisted that parents and other trusted adults don’t have to be tech-savvy to have the necessary conversations that will help keep children safe.
“They can lead relationally,” he said. “They can say, ‘I want you to know that whatever you find on this screen that disturbs you, you can land safely and softly with us.’”
Protect Young Eyes offers an age-appropriate digital safety curriculum to schools called “Be Tech Ready.”
Parishes throughout the Jefferson City diocese will have access to the materials for age-appropriate use in religious education classes.
“We emphasize being ‘Tech Ready,’” Mr. McKenna noted. “We don’t want our young people to be ‘tech bubble-wrapped.’ We want them to be ready.”
While it’s important for families to delay access to addictive technologies for their children, that isn’t enough.
“None of us can control all the ways tech enters their lives,” Mr. McKenna noted. “So we want our families to be tech-ready — ready to deal with tech problems.”
He insisted that focusing only on fear-based protection often tends to push children toward pursuing the very “forbidden fruit” that parents are trying to protect them from.
“Rather than the ‘not my kid’ virus or the ‘bubble-wrap approach,’ I want us to prepare our children and have open discussions with them about what’s out there,” he said.
“I want years of proper, balanced discussions about harmful digital situations flowing through our children, long before the world tries to harm them,” he stated.
What to expect
Mr. McKenna and wife Andrea have been married 24 years. He’s also the father of four children, ages 11-18.
He and his team have given over 1,700 presentations at schools, churches and other groups throughout the United States and internationally.
He’s a regular guest on news, radio and podcasts.
His 2019 testimony before Congress helped prompt the drafting and introduction of new federal and state child-protection laws for the internet.
He said that of the all the things that currently impact a child’s spiritual, relational, neurological and emotional development, technology is likely the most influential.
“When adults come to one of our presentations, they can expect to leave with soaring confidence, knowing how to have these conversations, how to have devices that are better protected, and to put shared values concerning digital things into practice,” he said.
“If that sounds more important than anything else you have on your calendar, then I look forward to seeing you there!” he stated.
He promises that parents who attend his presentations for adults will be empowered to prepare and protect their children from harmful content online.
It starts with adults developing loving, trusting relationships with the young people in their lives.
The workshop presenters will explain why it’s important to have 10 “little conversations” about pornography with each child before age 10 (their “10 before 10” strategy).
“Parents tend to be intimidated by that challenge,” Mr. McKenna noted. “They feel powerless and unequipped to have these discussions.
“The fact is, that’s exactly what the enemy wants: for them to do nothing,” he said.
He emphasized how easy it actually is for parents to breach the subject in an appropriate, God-centered way.
“You can invite the children to trust you and land softly with you about anything they see on the internet that disturbs them,” he said. “You can remind them that nothing they come to talk to you about will get them in trouble with you.”
He wants parents to repeat that message so many times that their children roll their eyes and finish the sentence for them.
“Then, you can say, ‘Good. I just want to make sure. Because I love you that much,’” he said.
Strength and solidarity
Mr. McKenna noted that it’s much easier to do the right thing when parents in the same community share the burden of making good but sometimes unpopular decisions with their children.
“No parent wants to be the only one whose child doesn’t have a device,” he said. “But when you have a tribe of likeminded parents who make these decisions, their children feel less isolated.”
Likewise, it’s important for parents and grandparents to work together on convincing lawmakers to enact stronger digital protections for children.
“It’s ridiculous to think that all the responsibility for keeping kids safe online lies solely with children and parents,” he said.
“That’s on policymakers to hold big tech accountable, and that’s on big tech to make their products better,” he stated.
Where and when
Here are the dates and times for the Protecting Young Eyes workshops:
Monday, Oct. 16
Tuesday, Oct. 17
Wednesday, Oct. 18
For proper planning, registration is requested. Please visit diojeffcity.org/pye-registration and select your location.