Recently, I got a chance to ask Ron DeHaas, the CEO of Covenant Eyes, about what he’s seeing in the whole realm of Christians and the internet. Here’s the interview:
1. What trends are you seeing in Internet viewing habits among Christians? Are more
things becoming acceptable as the Internet develops?
What a loaded question!
The most important trend, the most disturbing trend, is what I call the â€œAwareness/Reality
Gapâ€â€”that is, the widening gap between parental â€œawarenessâ€ and the â€œrealityâ€ of what is
happening to their children. This gap has become so great that it threatens the fabric of families.
The problem is that most parents are under-educated. They donâ€™t know whatâ€™s safe and whatâ€™s
not safe. They donâ€™t know when to put their foot down about time their kids spend online and
when to give their kids freedom. They want to understand more about how the prevalence of
technology is affecting their kids mentally, socially, and spiritually, but they are totally unaware
of the dangers of the Internet that threaten their families. As a result, 34% of children never
receive a single word of instruction on how to use the Internet.
Overall, Internet viewing habits among Christians look a lot like Internet viewing habits in the
rest of the world. We have over 70,000 people using our accountability software right now, and
98.1% identify themselves as Christians. On average our databases track and rate over a billion
web addresses visited by our subscribers every month, and we see the same sites on our radar
that are popular in the rest of the world. In addition to pornography, Christians make use of
Facebook, YouTube, and Google as much as anyone else does.
On the positive side, we find that Christian parents are just as concerned now as in the past about
how they should be raising their kids in our always-plugged-in culture. But there are obstacles
on the path to good parenting. Sexual media and pornography may come to mind as the most
obvious threat, but they are just the ugly tip of a very big iceberg.
A growing number of children (33%) have unsupervised and unmonitored access of the Internet
in their bedrooms, and parents are unaware of what they are viewing. An example that may
be worth a parentâ€™s look is the site stickam.com. Most parents would be horrified to find their
teenage daughter on camera on this site, sitting in her bedroom chatting with strangers. But that
is exactly what that site is. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of teenage girls on this site at
this very moment, which you can see for yourself within 30 seconds from now.
Parents often have a false sense of security if they use a filter that does not provide good
accountability. Most filters are incapable of blocking the most common way that teenagers use
to get around those filters, namely secure anonymizers. These secure sites go undetected by most
filters, yet anything and everything can be viewed through them without being blocked. Parents
need to know about these to avoid that false sense of security, yet more than 2/3 of parents donâ€™t
even know they exist!
Another important and related trend is the objectification of relationships
becoming â€œacceptable.â€ By â€œobjectification,â€ I mean that people are more and more seen as
objects, or worse yet, merely words on a screen, and less and less as real human beings who
deserve honest and personal communication. Relationships are not only falsified through false
scenarios of communication, but the really scary thing is what is happening to families and
youth. This falsification now begins at a very young age, with 70% of children 8 to 18 years
old going online every day. Nearly half (47%) of family members feel ignored because another
family member spends too much time online. 56% of divorces reportedly (from the American
Association of Matrimonial Lawyers) involve one spouseâ€™s â€œobsessive interest in pornographic
websites.â€ And that number will grow over the next 10 years because younger people just
coming into marriageable age use pornography at a higher rate than older people.
In answer to your second question, this trend does indeed lead to desensitization (acceptability
from a societal standpoint) toward things that formerly were treated as taboo by most societies.
2. Tell us a little more about Covenant Eyes new web rating system.
Because of the time pressures parents have, they need easier-than-ever tools to help them know
what their children are doing on the Internet. That is why we have spent years and millions of
dollars, developing our newly-released â€œAge-Based Content Rating Systemâ€ which produces a
rating similar to that of movies. And our reports are tuned to the age (or maturity) level of the
user being monitored.
So, for instance, if my 8-year old son and I view exactly the same sites in a weekâ€™s time, my
sonâ€™s report (set at the â€œTeenâ€ level) would include sites like Facebook, Netflix, etc. â€“ in addition
to any â€œbadâ€ sites. Yet even though I view exactly the same sites, my report (set at the â€œMatureâ€
level) would only show sites rated Mature, like Victoria Secret, Sports Illustrated swimsuits,
etc. The software is so flexible, both my son and I can use the same computer but have different
The report, of course, is just a tool, and is meant to be a beginning point of
communicationâ€¦real, honest, personal communication. The whole point is to get a report that
gives you the right amount of information so you can have a discussion about how the Internet
should or shouldnâ€™t be used.
3. How do you make rating decisions? And how is the rating data displayed?
Itâ€™s obviously going to be subjective, just like the movie ratings. There are people who disagree
that Sports Illustrated swimsuits should be rated â€œMatureâ€â€”but we have found that the vast
majority of our members agree with our assessments.
The ratings are done through a complex context-based algorithm. It is all automated; we donâ€™t
have staff who actually views the sites, except in research or in response to rating change
requests from our members. One thing that sets Covenant Eyes apart is that every individual
page on a website is rated, so the good areas of craigslist rate low, while the sexualized content
of craigslist rates high.
As soon as your computer accesses a website, our servers analyze all the information on that site
to give it a proper rating. For instance, we look at the web address, the words used on the page
itself, and also the â€œsource codeâ€ for the page (all the coding thatâ€™s running in the background).
Our system also looks at everything in context. For example, a site about breast cancer may not
be rated very high, but a google search on breasts is another matter altogether.
The ratings are displayed in the reports
we send via e-mail to accountability partners. Partners
get an at-a-glance list of highly rated web addresses, as well as highly rated Internet searches that
were done. If partners want to understand the report more fully, each domain or address listed
can be clicked on, and another more detailed report (called a â€œDetailed Browsing Logâ€) comes
up. This helps parents and partners to see things in context.
4. How do you rate social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter?
Great question, Todd. Because Facebook and Myspace themselves require users to be teens and
older, each web address from Facebook.com, Myspace.com, and similar sites is always rated at
least T for Teen. An individual page might rate higher because of the content on that page, but it
is always at least rated T.
5. How much responsibility should parents take for their kidsâ€™ web surfing habits? What
recommendations do you give to parents that have multiple kids with multiple computers/
cell phones/internet devices?
Parents shape the habits and beliefs of their kids more than we often realize. Parents have a
responsibility to God and their kids to be the shepherd of their familyâ€™s habitsâ€”that includes the
Of course, all kids are different, and you canâ€™t use a one-size-fits-all approach for every child.
What you let your 15-year-old do online will be different from what you let your 5-year old do.
This is why every parent needs to make use of software they can customize for each member of
their family. Both our accountability and filtering services give parents this kind of control.
When it comes to different devices, thereâ€™s no doubt parents need to be careful. Even things like
your Nintendo Wii can access the Internet. Parents need to know about parental controls for
every device they own. This may sound like a no-brainer, but I highly recommend not giving
your 10-year-old an iPhone for their birthday and doing nothing to limit how they use it.
We have accountability services for Windows computers, Macs, iPhones, iPod touches, iPads,
and we are getting ready to release an â€œalphaâ€ version of our Android app.
All the latest Internet safety research comes to the same conclusion: The best way to guard
the hearts and habits of your kids online is to set some basic rules and have ongoing dialogue
with them about how they use the Internet. What parents need is a tool that not only constantly
reminds them to do this, but is actually a springboard for healthy discussion. Thatâ€™s exactly what
Covenant Eyes aims to provide.
I encourage your readers to pick up a free copy of our e-book, Parenting the Internet Generation
We have a lot of information in there I think parents will find useful.
Ron DeHaas is the CEO of Covenant Eyes. Ron has a BS and an MS in Geology from The Ohio
State University and attended the University of Michigan as a PhD candidate. Ron pioneered the
concept of Accountability Software in the spring of 2000 when he founded Covenant Eyes. Ron
is also the founder of Nehemiah Ministries, a 160-acre retreat and counseling center in south-
central Michigan (a center for pastors, missionaries, and their families offered free-of-charge).