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.