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Cyberspace cautions

Every day more and more people are discovering how useful the Internet can be. For about $20 a month, anyone with a computer and a modem can access sports results, the latest news, extensive travel information, stockmarket prices, world-class museums and countless games and entertainment trivia. On just about any topic, whatever information you want is probably somewhere on the Internet.

Unfortunately, this technology comes at a price. It's like visiting the best theme park in the world, only to find a toxic dump beside it. Some of the highest traffic on the Internet is to pornography sites. One pornographic magazine's Web site received 4.7 million hits in one seven-day period.Most parents are concerned about the easy access children have to pornography on the Internet -- if they even start to look for it, they'll find it's impossible to miss. It takes only a few mouse clicks for an inquisitive child to find a sea of soft-core or hard-core pornography or extreme sexual images that are hard to forget.

A further concern to many adults is the temptation this brings into their own lives. Pornography is viciously addictive, and Internet pornography poses new challenges to personal responsibility and puts new pressure on marriage relationships.

The Internet contains much good; it also contains much that is bad. Whenever good is created, Satan tries to come up with a counterfeit plan and create something evil from it. Because of this, the Internet is helping the spread of pornography. In the past, social propriety or embarrassment might have stopped some from going into certain stores or movie houses to purchase pornographic magazines or view pornographic movies. The Internet removes those inhibitions. One prosecutor said there are more than 4,000 chat rooms or news groups dealing exclusively with pornography. Through the Internet, pornography has spread to epidemic proportions, spewing its morally toxic wastes ever further. We have received strong warnings against pornography, including the voice of President Gordon B. Hinckley who, at the October 1997 general conference's priesthood session, said:

"Pornography, with its sleazy filth, sweeps over the earth like a horrible, engulfing tide. It is poison. Do not watch it or read it. It will destroy you if you do. It will take from you your self-respect. It will rob you of a sense of the beauties of life. It will tear you down and pull you into a slough of evil thoughts and possibly of evil actions. Stay away from it. Shun it as you would a foul disease, for it is just as deadly. Be virtuous in thought and deed."

Homes are major battlegrounds in the fight against pornography. A lawyer who has prosecuted cases concerning Internet pornography said, "Most of the cases I have dealt with have involved students upstairs in their bedrooms while upright, law abiding, honest and hardworking parents are totally unaware of what is going on."

How can you safeguard your children from pornography? The starting point is that the rules you live by in the real world apply in cyberspace, too. If your family has rules about talking to strangers, the same applies on the Internet. If your family resists browsing through pornographic magazines at the newsstand, the same applies on the Internet.

Ultimately, the most fundamental protection is for parents to stay involved, even if they are not particularly computer savvy. Don't feel self-conscious if your children are leading and you are following as you explore the Internet together -- enjoy their knowledge as you would their achievements in sports, music or any other field. There is a wealth of positive information on the Internet; pursuing it together helps you guide your children to suitable sites.

You should seek information and assurance from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) that certain types of material are restricted or monitored. You can also use control features to restrict access to some Web sites and chat rooms or news groups. You also can install filtering software.

Ultimately all dependencies -- whether drugs, alcohol, destructive relationships or pornography -- are forms of escape from something. The children and adults with the highest resistance to pornography tend to be those who appreciate their value as individuals. This value is built through positive relationships, especially in the home. The most important thing parents can do to "porn-proof" their children is to build strong relationships based on a wise balance of love and discipline, teach sound gospel principles and set noble examples.