The growth of offensive material on the internet, and the ease with which it can be accessed even by the youngest children, has been one of the most disturbing developments of recent times. Parents have a difficult task ahead of them if they want to protect the children in their care.
One of the keys to success, as our report points out, is to install an internet filter on any computer children may use. The particular filter you choose is not as important as having one -– any one -– installed. But sadly, many parents still admit that despite all the publicity given to the explosion of unhealthy web sites, they have never managed to get around to installing filters on their computers.
Given this fact, it is encouraging to see that the new version of Windows – Vista – comes with a built-in filter, along with many other parental controls. One version of Linux, the Ubuntu Christian Edition, also comes with built-in parental controls. And there are also many commercial and freeware filtering programs available, including a number for Apple Mac computers.
So parents who do not install parent controls, or at least some kind of filtering device, simply have no excuse.
But there is still the question of whether software is a complete answer to the problem. Can it protect all children in all situations? Unfortunately no program comes with that guarantee, even where children are willing to obey all the rules. And it is clear that it is not possible to protect young people who don’t want to be protected. Children who set out to access pornography on-line are likely to succeed in one way or another.
For instance, it is not possible for children to be always supervised while using the internet, particularly while they are visiting friends or relatives. To make matters worse, there are programs available now, and even whole operating systems, that can run from a CD, a USB flash drive, or directly from a hard drive. These programs can override any filtering software that is installed on the computer.
Ultimately, the best protection against children accessing offensive material over the internet is good formation, or, in other words, good parenting. In many, if not most, cases where children are exposed to damaging materials on-line, it is due to their own attitudes rather than the nature of technology.
From this perspective, it is clear that parents need to help young people understand that human beings cannot be viewed as objects, and particularly as objects of pleasure alone. People are not things, but persons with a profound capacity to love and be loved. Young people need to understand that pornography undermines this very basic and profound aspect of the human person. Reducing human relations to the level of animal-like pleasure-seeking can destroy or seriously weaken their capacity to love. Once a human being’s capacity to give and receive love is undermined, what is potentially the most rewarding element of human life is also undermined.
Helping young people to properly appreciate the essence of human love and the struggle that is required for a person to reach true maturity is a challenge for both parents and educators. Part of that challenge is to help youngsters understand that the maturity that is needed to be a successful parent, a successful wife or husband, is something that must be worked at over a lifetime.
This is a struggle that involves the whole range of human virtues, including self-control, honesty, prudence, fortitude and temperance. Temperance in particular, is extremely important where the use of computers and the internet are concerned. Young people have to be made aware that they simply don’t have time to waste on long periods spent playing computer games, watching videos or listening to music. Most parents of children who are successful academically and have a rounded personality will tell you that it is a real struggle just finding time for basics like school work, exercise and cultural activities.
But even when children have been given good formation, and are struggling to use their time well, parents should never assume they will automatically stay away from on-line dangers. It is crucial that parents take up the subject with them and explain the dangers.
Without this kind of parenting, all the software in the world will be useless.
William West is editor of the Sydney family magazine Perspective.