Gather with any group of parents, and the issue of child safety generally comes up quickly. We invest in the best car seat, put safety latches on our cabinets, and cover the electrical outlets. We caution our children to "never talk to strangers," to "buckle up for safety," and to "wear your bicycle helmet." Yet, when it comes to Internet safety, many of us do not fully understand how to protect our children from pornography.
Most would agree that the Internet, when used properly, can be a valuable tool. We marvel that our eight-year-old can visit an African jungle, explore the ocean floor, or learn to speak Spanish. Yet, the Internet can also be a dangerous place. With unrestricted access, our children are at a high risk of exposure to pornography.
We find ourselves in a quandary. How do we afford our children the benefits of the Internet while protecting them from its dangers?
Surprisingly, the answer can be found in the Old Testament Book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah, a cupbearer to the king and a servant of God, learned that the walls and gates of Jerusalem were broken down, leaving God's people vulnerable to enemy attack. Nehemiah's response was immediate: "When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven" (Nehemiah 1:4, NIV).
However, Nehemiah did not stop there. He rose from his place of prayer, strengthened and with a specific, deliberate plan. Released from service by the king, Nehemiah set out toward Jerusalem to survey the problem before arriving at a solution.
Nehemiah's plan was twofold. It was spiritual and practical; it required faith and action. So, too, must ours.
Surveying the Problem
As parents, we must understand the full extent of the problem.
The U.S. Department of Justice in the 1996 Post Hearing Memorandum of Points and Authorities reported, "Never before in the history of telecommunications media in the United States has so much indecent (and obscene) material been so easily accessible by so many minors in so many American homes with so few restrictions."
It is a fact that pornographers specifically target children. Aware of pornography's addictive and progressive nature, pornographic sites are disguised with brand names like Disney, Barbie or ESPN1 in an attempt to lure our children. The average age of exposure to Internet pornography is eleven-years-old.2 Because of its addictive nature, an "accidental" exposure can result in a lifelong consumer.
In the January 26, 2000 edition of the Washington Times, Dr. Robert Weiss of the Sexual Recovery Institute called "cyber-sex...the crack cocaine of sexual addiction."
The good news is there are several things parents can do to make their child's online experience a safe one.
Building a "Wall of Protection"
Education is the first step in keeping our children safe. A number of organizations offer free resources and safety tips for online safety. Netsmartz Workshop® (www.netsmartz.org), developed by the Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, offers age-specific, online workshops for children and teens. The NetSmartz Parents & Educators site, a section of www.NetSmartz.org, provides current information on Internet safety issues. Included on the site are definitions of Internet terms, suggestions for discussing Internet safety with your children, and additional safety tips.
Other excellent sites include The National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families (www.nationalcoalition.org) and ProtectKids.com. Experts also offer the following safety tips.
- Place the computer in a high-traffic area, such as a kitchen or family room. Never place a computer in a child's room.
- Communicate openly and in an age-appropriate manner with your children about potential Internet dangers.
- Instruct your children never to give out personal information online, including full name, phone number, parent's work schedule, or photos.
- Find out what computer safeguards exist in your child's school, the local library, and the homes of your child's friends.
- Limit the amount of time your child spends online.
- Clearly define "family safety rules" for Internet use. Define and enforce consequences for breaking those rules.
The National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families cites parental involvement as key to protecting children from inappropriate material online.
Software is now available that blocks pornographic sites, e-mail, and chat room access. It can also maintain a log of sites visited, which allows parents to monitor their child's Internet use as well as establish specific time control for users.
Focus on the Family and The National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families recommend FilterReview.com, an interactive site which guides you in determining which software best suits your needs.
Sadly, research indicates that though 90 percent of parents are aware of blocking software, only 25 percent of parents use it.3
For our children's well-being, it is critical that we, as parents, follow through and take the necessary steps to keep our children safe online.
When the Plan Fails
Despite our best efforts as parents, it is possible that our children will be exposed to pornography online. Alyce, the mother of a preteen, was surprised to learn that her twelve-year old son had viewed pornography online. While checking the computer history one day, she stumbled across a pornographic URL. When confronted, her son explained that a friend told him he could get free porn, and gave him the URL. Curious, her son decided to check it out. At the time, their home had two computers with Internet access. Now, there is only one and it is in the main room of the house.
Alyce explained the importance of communication as a tool of online safety. "Children need to be able to freely communicate with their parents about delicate matters. If they feel they have to hide every move they make, parents will be left out of the loop on some very important life issues--whether it's for the Internet or elsewhere."
If you discover your child has accidentally or intentionally viewed pornography online, do not overreact. Instead, communicate clearly the guidelines established in your family. If you have identified consequences to rule violations, enforce them. If not, now is a good time to consider defining consequences for deliberate disobedience.
Communication is a key component of keeping your children safe online.
Building Spiritual Lives
The Book of Nehemiah is also a book about spiritual renewal--rebuilding the spiritual lives of the people.
Establishing rules for your child's online safety is important and necessary. However, your child's spiritual life is foundational to the choices he or she will make today and in the future.
We are to teach God's Word and live as an example of its truth for our children. "These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." (Deuteronomy 6:6–7, NIV).
The greatest gift is an active faithThe greatest gift we can give our children is an active faith. We must lead by example in putting God first in our lives. If God is not first in our lives, it is less likely that He will be in our children's lives.
As my son was growing up, he loved soccer so much that he wanted to play on the travel team. The problem was that many of those games were held on Wednesday night--a night we always spent at church. We had made the decision years ago that our internal commitment to Jesus Christ would be expressed in our external commitments. My son never played on the travel soccer team. But he did grow to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
As parents, we must invest in our children's spiritual lives through prayer, reading God's Word, and commitment to a local body of believers. A strong spiritual foundation is key in resisting temptation and overcoming the enemy.
Nehemiah faced a difficult task in rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem. Protecting our children from exposure to Internet pornography may seem equally daunting. We can be confident, however, that just as God led Nehemiah, He will lead us. Our role is to be one of prayer, action, and building spiritual truth into the lives of our children.
1The 2004 Internet Filter Review.
3Rules for Using the Internet: An Analysis of Teens and Parent Perspectives (Safe America Foundation, September 1999), 29–30.