Guarding Hearts: An Interview with the CEO of Covenant Eyes
Pornography is an insidious sin that eats away at the heart of our marriages, objectifies women, disqualifies men from ministry, and draws our eyes from the beauty of Christ. We should take every precaution to guard ourselves and our families against the onslaught of sexual temptation that comes through the internet. One of the precautions I have used for 6 years now is Covenant Eyes.
Today, I'm glad to introduce Ron DeHaas, the CEO of Covenant Eyes, to readers of Kingdom People. Ron pioneered the concept of Accountability Software in the spring of 2000 when he founded Covenant Eyes. He 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).
Trevin Wax: Ron, you've been helping men in their struggle against lust for many years now. What do you think is the biggest danger online today?
Ron DeHaas: There are two, actually:
- Lack of knowledge
- Torn relationships
I could write extensively about these two. Regarding lack of knowledge... Our surveys indicate that 46% of parents are not sure if their families are safe on the Internet. And 79% of parents are not even aware of secure anonymizers—the most common way of getting around other filters.
But for now I’ll focus on the issue of torn relationships. We are all painfully aware how parents are losing their children’s attention to new technologies, the rise of cyberbullying, Internet predators, the growing access to pornography, and the way students are hurting their future relationships (and reputations) because of the pictures or information they share.
One of the great contributing factors of this “torn relationship” effect is anonymity—in a very real sense, the Internet makes us feel removed from relationship, it makes us feel “cloaked” (like the cloaking devices of Star Trek). Sitting in front of my computer screen or Smartphone, it is easy to believe that what I do, see, or say online won’t matter as much as what I do in the “real world.” As we sit all alone and surf the Web, we lose our inhibitions. We feel freer to say a sharp word to someone, freer to click on the tempting picture, freer to make flirtatious connections, freer to spend our time and money.
Think about it:
- According to a survey published in the Journal of the American Psychological Association, 86% of men are likely to click on Internet sex sites if no one else will know about it. Is that a relationship building, or a relationship destroying tendency?
- According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 68% of divorce cases involve one party meeting a new lover over the Internet, and 56% of divorces today involve one party having “an obsessive interest in pornographic websites.” Isn’t that shocking?
- According to a survey published by Microsoft this year, 67% of teens have cleared out their browser history or cache to make sure their parents couldn’t view their online activity, and 31% do this “always” or “regularly.”
- According to this year’s study from the Girl Scouts, 42% of teens girls said they are concerned they won’t get into their college of choice because of things they have published on their Facebook or Myspace pages.
There are many more statistics I could share. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
The words of Rachel Wade still loom large in my mind. Last year, she got into war of words through the Internet with another girl over a boy they both liked. These interactions became so heated and bitter, when they finally saw each other face to face, their argument became physical. Rachel stabbed and killed this girl and was eventually sentenced to 27 years for second-degree murder. When interviewed about it, when ask about how it all started, she said, “You can hide behind technology. You can be a whole other person.”
Trevin Wax: Some of my readers may be unfamiliar with the Covenant Eyes software. Can you explain how Covenant Eyes helps guard against some of these problems?
Ron DeHaas: There are two things we offer people to directly to counter the two threats I just mentioned.
First, to combat lack of knowledge, we offer free education. We have a free monthly e-zine for parents about Internet safety and purity. We have a blog that talks about everything from porn addiction to parenting, from cultural trends to current events. We have several free e-books for parents and church leaders. We also regularly host a free webinar, “5 Hidden Dangers Facing You and Your Family Right Now.”
Second, to combat torn relationships, we offer our unique software.
Trevin Wax: Isn't it true, though, that good software in the wrong hands will have limited value?
Ron DeHaas: Yes, that's right. Parents often rush too quickly to technology as the easy fix for their fears. They just want to have a stronger fence to keep the bad guys out. But the answer isn’t always about building stronger fences. It’s about equipping ourselves and our kids to live in a world where fences aren’t always available—and many times they aren’t.
This is why we pioneered the concept of accountability software 11 years ago. It is not just a technological tool: it is a relational tool. Imagine a program that tracks all of your Internet activity and then “rates” every web address your computer visits—and then reports all of that activity in an easy-to-read format—so easy that even the subject line of the e-mailed report tells you how closely you need to look at the report. And imagine having the flexibility of customizing your report so that only the age-based sites you want to see are highlighted. And imagine this report going to whomever you want—like a parent, a spouse, a friend, etc.
Trevin Wax: One way that Covenant Eyes helps me is that it keeps me from wasting time online. Knowing that other people can see a record of what I'm doing helps me think about the time I'm spending online. The accountability aspect is of great value. It's not just a filter. It's constantly causing me to do a heart-check. How are others using the system?
Ron DeHaas: Today we have 80,000 people in over 150 countries using this program and it has helped many adults and kids alike to avoid the traps and pitfalls on the Internet. The software correctly identifies the secure anonymizers most people use to get around other filters (yes, we also have a filter for those who need it, particularly children). And it correctly distinguishes, for instance, between the good and bad parts of Craigslist or YouTube.
Trevin Wax: Some people aren't going to like the idea of other people knowing everything they do online. What’s the difference between healthy accountability and just being a snoop?
Ron DeHaas: Real accountability is a mutual and visible relationship. We didn’t invent our system to be an invisible program to spy on others. This goes for adults and kids alike. Parents should use our accountability service in an upfront way. Let your kids know they are being monitored. The reports are not only a reminder to talk to your kids about how they use the Internet, but they are also a perfect springboard of information to have that ongoing discussion.
Parents need to remember accountability isn’t a form of punishment or something you only do for trouble-makers. Often the mentality is, “If I am always checking on my kids, they will think I don’t trust them.” There are two things for parents to consider here:
- First (countering the lack of knowledge), part of being a kid is pushing boundaries. Parents need to know when and how to push back. Wise monitoring and conversations shows kids how much you care about their character.
- Second (preventing torn relationships), a parent may trust their child’s intentions, but they should never trust their child’s ability to handle all that the world throws at them. The fact is the Internet is a host for many scary things. Parents need to be present to help their child prevent and process those things.
We see this principle in businesses all the time: Only the best get accountability. When a person is being coached for a future promotion, accountability is an integral part of the process. We carefully train those was want to see succeed. The same should be true for our friendships and our relationships with our kids. If we want to see others overcome their bad habits and foster new habits, accountability is simply a part of that process. Why shouldn’t accountability be a part of our most valued relationships?
Trevin Wax: Great point, Ron. Thank you for stopping by and for the good work you are doing through Covenant Eyes.