We sat down with Matt Gore from Canopy, the digital parenting app that The Gospel Coalition called “The most effective technology on the planet to block pornography”, to hear about what kids face online.
You’re on the frontlines working to keep kids safe online every day. What are you seeing out there?
As part of Canopy’s ongoing research, I talk to teenagers about what they’re doing online. Here are some of the things kids tell us that their parents just don’t understand about what they face online:
Girls are asked for inappropriate photos all the time. Many teens tell us that sending and receiving nudes is a common part of relationships, and even of flirting. It is becoming normalized, and that means that good kids can find themselves under a lot of pressure to take and share photos they shouldn’t.
Porn is not just easy to find. It’s hard to avoid. In the past, kids had to go looking for porn if they wanted to see it. It was hard to find. Now, it’s hard to avoid. Kids are telling us that it’s showing up on their Reddit forum about sports, in their group texts, and even when they’re just trying to do their homework. Good kids see porn without ever trying to look for it.
Smartphones are wonderful tools to connect to people. Anyone who only says bad things about tech is not giving you the whole picture. The Internet is central to American tween and teen life, and for good reason. It’s amazing. For the last year, it was how kids went to school and saw their friends and kept up with grandparents in quarantine.
We started Canopy because we think the Internet is too amazing to be abandoned to spam, pornography, and the attention-sucking garbage coming out of Silicon Valley. We’re on a mission to redeem technology for families.
What motivates you to help families fight pornography?
I’ve seen the terrible impact pornography has had on the lives of people I care about. Talking to teenagers, it's clear that the problem is only getting worse. We have a generation of young kids who are being exposed to hardcore pornography before they have their first kiss. That’s not right. I want kids to get the chance to be kids.
Tell us about your company, Canopy.
At Canopy, we’re on a mission to build a world where families are in control over how technology shapes their lives. We’re starting with the Canopy digital parenting app, which protects kids from pornography.
What makes Canopy different?
Canopy has a better filter and – this is key – stops kids from disabling the filter.
Canopy uses Artificial Intelligence to look at photos and videos a split second before your child does. If the image has nudity, Canopy removes the photo. That’s a totally new approach and one that catches porn other filters miss.
But a filter is no good if kids can get around it. That’s the problem with most of the filters out there. Part of my job is trying to hack around porn filters and at this point, I can get around just about any filter in a couple of minutes. Teenagers can too, by the way.
But I can’t hack through Canopy. Our engineers have really done some amazing work building a better filter and defeating the workarounds.
A lot of parents say, "I've got good kids" or "I don't want to cause trust issues." What would you say to that?
One wise mom said, “I trust my kids, but I’d never leave drugs laying around the house.”
Well, porn is a lot like a dangerous drug. For some people, pornography can be addictive. Porn use at a young age can inflict lasting damage on the developing brain. Leaving unfiltered devices laying around the house isn’t a form of trust; it’s an invitation to addiction and harm.
What advice would you give to parents?
Think of a smartphone as a car. They’re both amazing tools that we want our kids to use freely and responsibly. But they can also be dangerous, so parents need to be actively involved in teaching their kids how to use them wisely.
Parents spend time teaching their kids how to drive before they give them the keys. And even after a teenager can drive, parents still set use commonsense things like curfews and seatbelts to keep kids safe.
We should really think of smartphones in the same way. We want kids to use their phones fully and freely, but we know they’ll need some coaching before they’re ready to do that on their own.
We think of Canopy as one of those commonsense tools to help keep kids safe online.
Where can people learn more about Canopy?
We’d love that! People can try Canopy free for a month at Canopy.us/FamilyChristian.
We’d also love to get feedback, ideas, and parenting wisdom from all the great parents out there on the frontlines. Shoot an email to us at email@example.com. It goes straight to our leadership team. We’re working every day to make Canopy better and figure out how to help parents raise kids in a digital age. We’d love your help.
Matt is the Director of Engagement at Canopy, the digital parenting app. He’s also a volunteer youth leader. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his family.