This month I was tasked with penning a column that covered the topic of "Software/Apps to protect your family." As the owner of Thirtyseven4, a leading provider of Windows, Mac and Android antivirus/security solutions, I really wanted to challenge myself to focus on a protection “app” not developed by Thirtyseven4. This task proved harder than I thought, as I’ve devoted my entire seventeen year career in the online security software industry to creating products that can protect families, businesses and schools against the growing and always evolving cyber security threats. Thirtyseven4 products not only proactively protect devices against malicious programs like ransomware, viruses, Trojans, etc. but our solutions have also evolved to protect children from visiting unwanted web content on the Internet, protection against unwanted programs and online advertisements, to provide anti-theft modules with GPS location tracking and even a module to help you in times of an emergency (pressing a panic button within our mobile device solution will automatically send a message with your current location to alternate contact numbers. Facebook and Twitter status would also get updated with a message).
I thought long and hard about what app(s) or software to specifically highlight to benefit readers and their families, and it wasn’t until today, as I reflected back on the past weekend that I realized the answer was literally in front of me the whole time. Monday of this week was a Federal Holiday, and the extra day “off” (I use this term loosely as a business owner) provided me an opportunity to see a movie at the theater. As is always the case, I enjoy watching movies, whether at home or at the show, with my family. However, the movie I was interested in seeing (Star Wars: Rogue One) was rated PG-13 so I wanted to research how age-appropriate the content was. For this, I usually have two “go-to” resources: (1) I like to check out the webpage of Common Sense Media (commonsensemedia.org). Their website explains, “Common Sense Media is the leading independent nonprofit organization that helps families make smart media choices. We offer the largest, most trusted library of independent age-based and educational ratings and reviews for movies, games, apps, TV shows, websites, books, and music.” (2) My other option is the Plugged In App available within Google Play, created by Focus on the Family. The core mission of the Plugged In app is to shine a light on the world of popular entertainment.
The nice thing about both resources is that the content of their reviews, feedback and insights are not limited to movies at the theater but also DVD/Blu-Ray releases, downloadable apps and regular TV programming.
Additionally (and fascinatingly!), while researching some information from the Focus on Family webpage, I also noticed that in addition to the Plugged In app, they also recommend a Blu-ray player that contains the ClearPlay software for filtering violence, profanity, nudity and other types of content from Blu-ray and DVD movies. And while I can’t personally attest to the solution, it is my understanding that you can also utilize the ClearPlay software (minus the purchase of the Blu-ray player) to stream and filter content purchased or rented on GooglePlay. (Isn’t that awesome?! As a father of kids ages 6, 8, and 10, ClearPlay sounds like peace-of-mind, and definitely something I will be looking in to.)
It’s interesting how the Lord plants different things in your mind and your life. I often think back to one of my favorite Vacation Bible School songs, O Be Careful Little Eyes:
O be careful little eyes what you see
O be careful little eyes what you see
There's a Father up above
And He's looking down in love
So, be careful little eyes what you see
Not only have I prioritized this idea of protecting our eyes in the products that my business creates for webpages, but I am equally aware and vigilant against the potential content my kids are exposed to while watching TV or movies. According to studies by Focus on the Family they found a direct correlation between kids viewing violence and acting out aggressively. The same goes for viewing sexual content in media outlets and teens acting out sexually. In the antivirus world, we invest heavy finances, resources and energy toward our proactive approaches to combat the threat of the cybercriminals, so why not also take the time and invest in the lives of our children to proactively safeguard their eyes and ears by using available apps and software to make informed choices over what we feel are acceptable shows and movies to watch and apps to download.
In fact, here are a few guidelines from Bob Waliszewski, author of Plugged-In Parenting:
1) Have an honest and ongoing discussion with your children about the importance of protecting their minds. Waliszewski recommends having this talk at least twice a year.
2) Use a filtering software like ClearPlay for playing DVD and streaming movies in the home. Set it to remove unwanted violence, profanity, nudity, and sexual dialogue and content.
3) Make it a habit to read movie reviews from PluggedIn.com to find out about what is in the movie before choosing it to view in your home or at the theater. You can also follow up with a discussion about the movie afterwards. If you are making decisions on the go, get their free mobile app.
4) Model wise entertainment decisions. It's an absolute certainty that if you say one thing and do something else, your children will pick up on it sooner or later.
5) Consider putting your family media guidelines down in writing.
The Media War is an all-out battle. The images, suggestions and acceptable practices that are portrayed as “normal” on our screens most-often paint a picture in direct conflict with what the Bible says, and today’s movies and TV shows are on the opposite side of morals and any type of Bible-based upbringing.
What shall we say then? Ban the TV? No more going to the movie theater and getting the large buttery popcorn? No--retreating from society doesn’t solve anything, and it doesn’t prepare or teach our children (or us!) to live in the world, but not be of the world.
We must educate ourselves. We must arm ourselves and our families with knowledge and also the “why’s” to back up the facts. Discuss with your kids why the high schoolers on TV embraced in a passionate kiss don’t usually end up happily-ever-after.
We must do our research on sites such as Common Sense Media and Plugged In. And then stick to your principals—don’t’ say “yes” if it is a “no”. (We are parents first and friends-of-our-kids second.) Become informed about what your kids are watching/logged in to at home and at friends’ houses/sleepovers. The innocence lost while starring at a computer screen (child or adult) is a sum that only God knows, and I believe His heart must be heavy over the rampant assault of the entertainment industry and the toll it takes on our families and society.
Protecting our kid’s eyes (and hearts) is a steep mountain to climb. But we start with a step or two. I have made a couple recommendations for available apps, software and a webpages available to help assist parents from the relentless war between them and the entertainment industry and the values you try to instill in your kids. However, the war is far from won. I told you at the beginning of this article that the direction for this article was staring me in the face. Twice this past weekend, once while watching a college bowl football game (of my alma mater) that I wanted to share in with one of my boys and again later that evening while innocently watching the old-school Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with all my kids, I had to quickly scream at them to close their eyes and then I spoke loudly over the TV. In both cases it wasn’t the “show” itself but the commercials. As if there are not already enough alcohol related commercials on TV during every live sporting event you watch, what place does a Viagra or similar commercial have during a daytime game or commercials featuring lingerie on kid-friendly stations. It’s deplorable.
So I end this article asking you this question…apart from recording all TV shows in advance so that commercials can be skipped or not recorded, what software/app are you using for filtering out the inappropriate images and messages displayed in commercials? I feel there is a need and I may just have to do something about it. Any ideas? Feel free to email me your thoughts and opinions at firstname.lastname@example.org.