Mailbag – My teenage son, Forrest, (17) is upset with me because I want to put accountability software on his computer. He says I’m too intrusive and it’s weird for a mom to be checking up on him.
My impulse is to do it anyway, regardless of what he says. I would like to make a case to him about why I want to do this. We are a Christian family and I’m sure there are clear biblical examples of accountability. How would you advise me?
Thank you for your question. I appreciate you asking. I also appreciate your desire to care for your son. You’re thinking correctly for sure. It’s not all that common for parents to engage their children, especially as they reach their high school years.
In my world it’s usually because there has not been ongoing and consistent relational interaction from their youth. By the time they are teens, the kids want less and less to do with their parents.
The idea of honoring, respecting, being kind, and biblical love is lost on many kids today. There is culpability on the parents, mostly through a lack of modeling, but what I read in your comment, there seems to still be hope with your son.
You have been doing some things right to be able to at least have this dialogue and he is not totally dissing you. The “ice” may be thinning in the relationship, but it reads as though there is hope.
Let’s go deeper into the problem
If you are married, the first question is about your husband. Because I don’t know you, I don’t want to assume your marital status. If you are married, what does your husband say about this? What advice or direction does he provide?
A husband is the wife’s protector, as well as her lover. He should be providing directive care, while showing supportive unity in the marriage. Sometimes, though probably not in your situation, teens are disrespectful of their mothers because respect has not been modeled in the marriage.
Disrespecting spouses will breed disrespecting children. This is an act of anger or frustration toward their parents, which becomes a reaction to how they think about their parents. There are two reasons I bring this up:
- A child who disrespects his parents has deeper issues than simply the request made to him.
- If you want to help your child regarding his behavior, you’ll have to deal with the underlying problems in his heart.
If your goal is to help your child walk in holiness, then putting software on his computer will not accomplish that goal. That is a behavioral (mechanical) hindrance to sin, but it does not address the cause of sin–the heart.
While it would be good to stop future sin, embarrassment because of sin, temptations from sin, and traps pertaining to sin, the most effective thing you can do is address the heart issues that feed this desire to not be held accountable.
If there are underlying and unresolved issues of the heart, then there needs to be a discussion about the real things going on in his life, rather than just technological deterrents to keep something from happening.
You need more than accountability
This transitions into my next thought. Your question was framed as accountability, which is not the best way to communicate what you want to do. The word accountability has the feel of watching over someone to keep them from making mistakes.
While this can be good and even necessary at times, it lacks depth. Your son needs more than just someone looking over his shoulder, even if it’s computer software doing the looking.
Your goals for your son are deeper than this, which I appreciate. Your goals for him are the goals I have for myself–to love God and my neighbor most of all (Matthew 22:36-40). This is the highest and most desired goal for all of us.
Therefore, as already noted, you will have to do more heart work than surveillance work. While I recommend accountability software like Covenant Eyes, you need more.
- Click Covenant Eyes to learn more about their ministry
What I would like to do here is change your wording a bit to give it more biblical direction. God is not about “watching” us, but about transforming us. One of the things I deal with in counseling is how people have a wrong view of God. It can go like this:
He’s up there somewhere watching me. If I make a mistake, He will let me know about it. I don’t want God to get me. I better do right.
This is an unhealthy and unbiblical way to think about God. Typically, a person who struggles this way has underlying issues of fear, guilt, shame, regret, and/or condemnation.
As a parent, I don’t want to communicate an angry parent God to my children. In your question to me, your son implied this “watching” notion. He felt it was weird. As is, it is weird, but this is where you can talk with him and give more definition and nuance as to what you really mean.
Thinking biblically about discipleship
The word “accountability” does not appear in our English Bible. You will read about “giving an account” for this or that, but not accountability. (See Hebrews 4:13, 13:17; 1 Peter 4:5).
Giving an account for your actions, as understood from the texts above, is different from being held accountable or watched. Children first learn about God through how parents interact with them.
My appeal to you would be to broaden your desires, while bringing more biblical precision to them. Here are a few better ways you can communicate what you want to do for your son. The words in italics can be found or implied in the verses given.
- My desire is to serve you in your walk with God (Mark 10:45).
- The goal for you is the same for me–a transformed life (Romans 12:1-2).
- If need be I will admonish you for your good (Romans 15:14).
- I want to care for you because I love you (1 Corinthians 12:25).
- I want to see you built up in Christ (Romans 14:19).
- I want to regard you more than I regard myself (Philippians 5:21).
- My goal is to bear with you all the days of your life (Colossians 3:13).
- I want you to experience my increasing love for you (1 Thessalonians 3:12).
- I want to encourage you in your walk with God (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
- Part of parenting is to seek that which is good for you (1 Thessalonians 5:15).
- Hopefully I can stimulate you toward good works (Hebrews 10:24).
There are more verses that expand on the idea of discipleship and, as you can see, it’s far better and more comprehensive than the word accountability. There is a difference between watching someone or having someone watched and humbly serving them.
I can “hold you accountable” to holiness or I can come alongside you as your humble servant, helping you along in your sanctification journey. Accountability requires less work for sure. Discipleship is a fuller and more effective experience.
One of the things you can do by way of homework is work through the One Another passages in the New Testament. I listed a few of them for you. If you are a Member, click 31 One Another Verses and use this document to help you through this project.
Give him your example
You also want to make sure your care request is not detached from the life you’re living before your son. I’m sure it isn’t and this is only a reminder to you. The most effective care you can give your son is your authentic Christlike example.
You are an example (Ephesians 5:1). This is why you have people in your life, speaking to you about your weaknesses and temptations (Philippians 4:9). This is why you want to speak into your son’s life.
Your authentic Christian experience, lived out in Christian community, will have more impact on your son than accountability software. As he sees you doing the thing you’re asking him to do, it will be more difficult for him to complain about your request.
He calls your request weird. It’s not really weird if that is how you live your life. If he has seen others care for you the way you want to care for him, then there is nothing weird going on here.
If he has not seen this, then there is an opportunity before you–a conversation you must have with your son regarding something you want for him, but have not lived out yourself. The Bible has a word for this–hypocrite, and that is the last thing he needs to be observing in your life.
Whatever ways you need to change (repent), do it. Parents and other teachers of the Gospel want to make sure they have removed all appearances of evil from their lives. If not, their message will be muted because of a poor example.
Practically speaking about your son
If all I’ve said thus far is in play or is moving in the right direction, there should be no reason for your son to resist your request. If he does, then you have deeper issues with him. A way to get at these deeper issues is by asking good questions. Here are a few:
- Weird is not a good answer. Why do you really not want the software on your computer?
- Are you a Christian? (Though you may not ask this question, you must explore it at some point. His resistance speaks more to his relationship with God, than to you. He could be quenching or grieving the Spirit or he may not know the Spirit.)
- What do you have to hide? Locks are for the honest people, not for crooks. If you’re honest, there is nothing to be concerned about. If you’re looking into things you shouldn’t or if you’re trying to keep info from me, then we have a problem–honest people are transparent.
These types of questions and the things I’ve outlined above are better ways of communicating your love, affection, and discipleship care to your son–rather than just “holding him accountable.”
By showing your deeper and broader concern, you’re communicating how this is a bigger problem than your desire to “watch” him or him getting “caught.”
You’re letting him know there are real temptations in this world and you want to care for his soul. You can talk to him about King David, a man by all accounts, who loved God with his whole heart.
Run, Forrest. Run.
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. – 2 Timothy 2:22 (ESV)
Temptation is real and no one is above the schemes of the devil–even the great David. Your son is naive. He may be more than that. He could be hiding something, but there is no doubt he is naive. He does not understand the enemy.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:10-12 (ESV)
This is part of why I’m asking you to go deeper in your care for him–deeper than just having him watched. Any person who responds to potential temptation the way your son did, is communicating the depth of his wisdom, which is not much.
But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. – James 1:14-15 (ESV)
Spiritual death is in his future. It could be spiritual rigor mortis has already set in. That is what his response implies. This is why I’m elevating the concern beyond your query about accountability.
It would be good for you to read through the Proverbs regarding sexual temptation, so you will be briefed on the seriousness of this sin. Start with Proverbs 5:3 and read about the forbidden woman. Then read, starting at Proverbs 6:23, about the adulteress.
This section of the Proverbs is for the mature to teach the young people wisdom. Your son’s response is an indicator he is lacking wisdom, which I’m sure you already know.
While it is good to keep opportunity and temptation apart, you won’t be able to do this unless your son wants to keep them apart. It is one thing to have temptation, but have no opportunity. It is another thing to have opportunity, but not be tempted.
It is only when temptation and opportunity “kiss” that you’re a dead duck. This was the problem with David. He stepped out on his roof one night and he was tempted and he had opportunity. You know the rest of the story. Your son needs to know this story too (2 Samuel 12:24).
You’re the one who will give an account
There are a couple of ways you can go here. For me, I would put the software on his computer whether he liked it or not. I’m assuming you bought the computer and he’s living in your house.
It’s your home and you have a responsibility before God for how you steward the home God has given you. Anybody who comes into my home has to act in our home according to how we believe God wants them to behave.
I would not let a person come into my home and get drunk. I would not let a person come into my home and look at porn. Technically, it is God’s home, not yours and you have a responsibility before God to do things His way–according to how you understand God’s way.
If you have carefully walked through what has already been said and you’re seeking to live out those truths, especially by your example, then you may have to implement how you want things to be regardless of what he thinks.
You are responsible to God for how you parent and how you run your home. While you want to consider your son’s request, it’s on you to make the decision. This is an obedience issue between you and God.
Like parental discipline when he was young, things are no different here. You must be obedient to God and not be controlled by your son.
Don’t get caught
There could be a chance your hard and corrective actions keep the foolish and naive (your son) from being caught in sin. That’s a real concern. Sexual sin is as addictive as some drugs and if it gets its claws in a person’s heart, he may never recover.
I deal with sexual addiction all the time. It’s not odd for a person to have a 30-year habituated pattern of porn addiction which began when he was a teenager. Porn is usually the “entry drug” that leads to deep, longstanding, habituated patterns of sin.
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. – Galatians 6:1 (ESV)
You DO NOT want your son to be “caught” in sexual sin. The cultural word for caught is addiction. You can’t let this happen, if you can stop it. But do not be naive, accountability will not stop him if he wants to look at it.
Locks are for the honest people, not those who crave sin. You can do your best, but this is between him and God. If you’re doing what I have written and are actively implementing these things, then your soul can be at rest in God.
Two last caveats
Guard your heart to make sure your goal is not myopic, in the sense you’re just trying to keep him from looking at sin. Sometimes, some parents can be more concerned about their personal embarrassment and less concerned about the sanctification of their child.
I’m sure that is not the case with you, but it needs to be said. Your goals must be higher than personal expense for sin–what it might cost you. Christ gave His life for sin. His goal was the transformation of billions of people. Your goal must be the transformation of your son, with little regard to your reputation.
You could get blindsided by your own cravings for image and reputation. Make sure your spiritual eye is on the spiritual ball, meaning this is all about your son and his relationship with God and not about you.
Finally, are you a smother mother? I doubt it, but I must ask. Some mothers over-worry regarding their children. If you have an honest friend, I appeal to you to ask if this is the case.
Do you over-care, over-worry, over-stress, and over-fear regarding your child? Are you resting in God regarding this? These are important questions for all of us. You’ll know if you’re resting in God by the degree in which you worry or get angry when your son does not comply to your wishes.