Many of our children are exposed to internet pornography. Fr. Jacobse offers some practical tips for parents on regulating the internet at home.
Imagine walking into a bookstore where the shelves are filled with books on history, literature, travel, technology, entertainment,and scores of other subjects. Then imagine that one wall displayed the largest collection of pornographic books anywhere. There are hundreds of titles, their covers splashed with every sort of sexual activity.
You can't see the porn when you first enter the store but after roaming the aisles you inevitably bump into it. Would it bother you? Would you want to keep your child away from it? Would you ever allow your child to enter the store alone?
The internet is that bookstore. The internet is a powerful means of communication but it also is a danger. Take a look at the Greek Archdiocese website for example, to see a rich resource that the internet offers. At the same time, pornography is so pervasive on the internet that almost everyone who surfs the net will stumble on it sooner or later -- including your child.
Internet pornography is a vexing problem. The courts lump pornography under the legal rubric of "free speech" which makes regulating the internet very difficult. For example, recently the Supreme Court ruled that "virtual child pornography" cannot be outlawed because no harm was perpetrated on an actual child ("virtual" means that the images of children engaged in sexual acts are not taken from real pictures of real children but are created electronically).
Unfortunately, the question is never asked if pornography has any corrosive effect on society, whether pornography compels potential molesters to act on their compulsions and thus present a greater threat to children, or even if pornography ought to be granted the broad freedoms that it enjoys. (If cigarette companies cannot ply their products on television or on billboards near schools, why are pornographers given free reign on the internet?)
One approach that might pass muster with the judiciary is to provide all pornographic sites with a single domain identifier such as adu (for adult) instead of com or org. This would not eliminate pornography from the internet but it would make filtering out pornographic websites much easier.
Encountering pornography on the internet is often innocent. Say for example that your child wants to make a report on the White House. If he mistakenly enters "www.whitehouse.com" into his computer instead of "www.whitehouse.gov", he will end up at a pornographic web site. This simple error will expose your child to raw images and raw language he ought not to see.
Sometimes the encounter is not innocent. Priests who hear the confessions of teens report that viewing pornography on the internet by isincreasing and that our teen-age boys are especially vulnerable. The boys knowit is wrong and intend to stop, but ease of surfing to a pornographic site is a temptation that some of our young men find difficult to resist.
Pornographic images are not neutral. They are created to sexually arouse the viewer, particularly men (men buy 95% of the pornography produced; online pornography alone generates over $1-2 billion annually; there are over 100,000 pornographic sites in the US, 400,000 around the world). A teen age boy is particularly susceptible to the power of pornography because of the emergent sexual desire of adolescence and the relative innocence towards sexual matters. Viewing pornography can have serious spiritual consequences and easily develops into a habit.
Parents must protect their children from pornography. This begins by not assimilating the dominant cultural attitude that pornography, including the softer images portrayed on television, are acceptable in the home. Do you watch HBO? Cancel it. Do your children watch MTV? Cancel that too.T he home is the "small church" the Fathers of the Church teach us. If parents turn a blind eye towards pornography by allowing these images into their home, they risk undermining the character of their children.
Parental responsibility continues by vigilant supervision of the internet. The computer should be in a public place in the home such as the family room or even the kitchen where there is plenty of traffic by the rest of the family. Children should not be allowed online when parents are not home. Internet use should be regulated with aimless surfing prohibited. Computers in a child's room should have no internet access at all. Parents should oversee all internet activity particularly with the younger children.
These recommendations will strike some parents as unduly restrictive. But would a responsible parent let their child roam in a bookstore with thousands of pornographic images on display? Allowing our children to roamthe internet lets them enter that store alone.
Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse is a priest in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.