Pornography and the Internet: Are Your Children Safe?
I tend to be skeptical when Catholic parents claim that they have protected their children against pornography on the Internet. I live in a very traditional, solid Catholic community—so I’d expect the methodology of the parents to be more proactive than in other areas. However, informal polls that I’ve taken of these parents reveal that their methodology of protecting their children simply consists of having some sort of content blocking software on their computer(s).
How Good Is Content-Filtering Software?
At my business we’ve tested the industry’s leading software. Is it pretty good? Yes … well … maybe it catches (at best) 90-95% of pornographic images on the Internet. But that remaining 5-10% is substantial, and it is easily accessible. So, is the protection comprehensive? No. Will it keep your children from either passively receiving or actively seeking out pornography? No.
So what’s needed to keep your children from being exposed to celebrities dressed like prostitutes, indecent language, graphic displays of human sexuality and worse?
It’s simple. Keep them off the computer.
“Parental Controls” Means Parents In Control
Now I don’t mean that there are not plenty of legitimate reasons to be on the Internet. The top two reasons that I most often hear are “research” and “communication”. With schools more commonly accepting Internet sources for research papers, and even county soccer association coaches communicating with team members via email, who’s to say that the Internet isn’t an acceptable alternative to going to the library or making a phone call?
Well, the parents are! I think that a lot of parents get worn down by the culture (or their kids) and allow their kids (or the culture) to do too much. Here’s how things normally progress:
- Your child starts going on the Internet for the occasional email message and paper research.
- Your child starts chatting with a couple of friends over some sort of instant messaging system. Harmless.
- Your child asks your permission to go to a few web sites to check out some video game reviews and sports information. You give the sites a cursory glance, think that they are fine, and accede to the request.
- Thinking that your child is staying on the straight and narrow, you start leaving them alone in the room while they are on the Internet.
These are often the first 4 steps in a typical decline, resulting in the admission: “I’m not absolutely sure what my child does on the Internet”. Probably 10% or less of the parents that I’ve spoken to have a “no Internet if I’m not in not in the room” policy. But I don’t always talk to the parents to find this out. I get the information from the child as well. Then you find that you can (realistically) cut that figure in half. The kids who are subject to the policy notice when you are out of the room more than you do.
Test Your Policy With A “Discovery Process”
If you find yourself admitting to the above condition, then you might want to take an audit of what’s on your computers. Results can be revealing, even for kids savvy enough to hide some of their tracks. You might not be among a minority if you find that your child has established his own web-based email account, is receiving email from mailing lists that you didn’t authorize, has names of people on his IM buddy list that you’ve never heard of, has visited sites of a dubious nature and has seen things that you’d just as soon he hadn’t.
By that I mean the following: if your teenage son has been on any mainstream site having to do with music or entertainment, chances are he’s seen enough to evoke a mind-entrancing response that can tempt him for weeks. Even pre-teens need protection. Images inserted into the child's memory can prove to be problematic later on.
Lack of Policy = Acceptance of Consequences
And that’s if you’re lucky. There is much worse out there that will get through your Internet filter if your kids find ways to get significant unsupervised computer time. Therefore, you need a very strict -- and enforceable -- computer access policy. Keep your computer out of the hands of your children unless you are in the room. If your children tend to be naughty and disobedient (as many children are wont to be), pull the plug.
Otherwise, if your young son sneaks downstairs at night behind your back, boots up the family computer and searches Yahoo! for “naked woman”, he’ll find exactly what he wants. And your $29.95 software won’t prevent him from looking at some of it.
You don’t have to talk to many priests to find out that pornography can be horribly addictive and psychologically debilitating—so we should take all possible steps to ensure that our children aren’t exposed to it. There are many places in life where you will not be able to shield your children from the fruits of the sexual revolution. But your home computer shouldn’t be one of them.
You can find some Catholic perspectives on the Internet by using the CatholicCulture.org search with the keyword "internet". Among the results are the following two crucial documents.
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