Staying Spotless in a Sea of Slime – Part 3
by Clark L and Kathryn H. Kidd

Editors’ Note: We have received so many letters from readers interested in learning more about how to avoid pornography, the Kidds have agreed to do two additional columns with solutions.

Judging by the number of letters we have received from Meridian readers since this series began, it is apparent that pornography has ensnared many Church readers of both sexes and all ages. It isn’t just your children who should be protected from Internet pornography; adults are also susceptible.

If your family wants to use the Internet without being endangered by online pornography – and from some of the other evils that are lurking on the Internet -, the first thing to do is to make sure your online environment is as family friendly as possible. Junior may want a computer of his own, and Mom and Dad may even prefer to keep those noisy computer games securely isolated in a child’s bedroom or a basement office. But the loss of your peace and quiet is a small sacrifice to make when compared with the potential danger of having a child or parent succumb to the effects of pornography, or to computer predators in other forms. That being the case, your computer should be located in the busiest area of your home – an area where people are likely to walk past the computer at any moment and glimpse whatever is being displayed on the monitor. Furthermore, the monitor screen should be facing outward where anyone can easily see it. This removes temptation that may be difficult to resist if the computer were safely hidden behind closed doors.

You may want to also set up hours when the computer may be accessed. Setting hours for computer use may avoid the inevitable squabbles that occur when a household of people want to use a single appliance. But even more important, setting regular computer hours will assure Mom and Dad that nobody will be using the computer unsupervised. It doesn’t do any good to put the computer in the kitchen, if people are allowed to use the computer when nobody else is around.

But putting the computer in a public place and regulating the hours of usage is only the beginning. Every family member, including the adults, should be expected to abide by rules that govern the use of your home computer. Start the process by having some discussions with your children. You may want to hold a formal family meeting, telling your family members about some of the online dangers, and explaining why certain rules are necessary. Ask your children what they can do to make sure they don’t fall into the traps that are being set for them by unscrupulous characters and situations they could find online. If your children are involved in setting the rules, they will be more likely to keep them.

The key is to regularly emphasize that these are not arbitrary rules dictated by Mom and Dad, but rules developed by the family, for the protection of the family. That means parents must follow the rules also, although they will probably be granted more privileges than the children. Emphasize, too, that connection is a privilege – not a right. Family members earn the privilege of computer use by following the rules that have been agreed upon by your family.

Your family rules for computer use should tell the family in no uncertain terms what is prohibited in the use of your home computer. This list will obviously vary based on the age of the children, but consider including at least some of the following:

– I will never disclose personal information to strangers without my parents’ permission. This includes my last name, my street address, my city and state, my telephone number, my age, and the name of my school.

– I will not disclose personal information about my parents or other family members without permission. I will not disclose where my parents work, or when they work, or tell anyone their occupations.

– I will never agree to meet an online acquaintance in person, unless I have permission.

– I will never make or receive phone calls from online contacts without permission.

– I will never mail anything to an online contact without permission. Similarly, I will not open anything I receive in the mail from an online acquaintance without getting permission first. (This refers to postal mail, not email.)

– I will not give out my email address to anyone unless I have permission.

– When sending email, I will not send any attached or embedded files without getting permission. Similarly, I will not download any such files I receive from others without permission.

– When someone asks me to send a picture of myself, either through the mail or attached to an email, I will not do so until I get permission.

– I will not respond to any message I receive that is rude, suggestive, or harassing, and I will report all such messages to my parents.

– I will not stay online if someone starts to annoy or threaten me, but will disconnect immediately, and contact my parents.

– I will not open email from anyone I do not know. If I accidentally open email from someone I do not know that has links in it, I will not follow the links.

– I will not look at any suggestive websites or read any suggestive email – either in my own home or on someone else’s computer. If a friend tries to show me suggestive material on his computer, I will leave the room.

– If someone I do not know sends me an instant message, I will not respond. I will not visit a chat room unless I have permission from my parents.

– I will not give anyone my password except my parents (or my spouse), who will always have my password and who will have access to my email box.

– I will not let any of my friends use my screen name (user ID) to send or receive email, unless I have permission from my parents. Any friend who uses his own screen name on our computer must abide by our family rules when doing so.

– I will abide by my family computer rules on any computer where I may have access, even away from home.

Some of these rules sound arbitrary, but all of them are sound. For example, you may believe a chat room is a safe place for your children to visit. After all, how dangerous can a discussion of pet hamsters be? But chat rooms are the most dangerous places on the Internet. Pedophiles lurk in the chat rooms and elicit conversations with unwary children. And even if your child is spared this personal attention, there are computer programs that regularly search chat rooms to collect email addresses, which are then used to send pornography solicitations to those email boxes.

When we were writing our book A Parent’s Survival Guide to the Internet, Clark spent just a few minutes in a chat room, using a screen name (user ID) that had never received any unsolicited email. Within 24 hours, that mailbox was filled with spam (junk email) advertising everything from pornography to online school papers. It was like opening the door of our home and dumping a can of garbage on the carpet.

The other situation that may cause trouble for your children is when they go online with a friend. The friend may have less stringent rules regarding computer behavior than your family does. Or the friend may try to do things with your child’s screen name (user ID) that could invite improper solicitations that will be received by your child. In fact, if a friend misbehaves online using the screen name of one of your family members, your family’s online account can be canceled.

Once your family rules have been established, they should be posted in a place where everyone who uses the computer can see them. You may want to print them out in the form of a contract, with each computer user in the household – from Dad down to Junior – signing the contract and agreeing to obey it. Take several opportunities each year to review the rules and explain why they are important. If you see stories in the media where people are harmed because of Internet activities, relate those stories to your children, and use them to reinforce the importance of having and following family rules. Breaking the rules by any member of the family should result in a temporary or permanent loss of online privileges.

Our next column will show you some of the danger signs that may indicate when a child – or a parent – is not following the rules of online behavior. Other columns will give you some general safety guidelines for computer use, as well as technical information that will show how you can make sure your rules are being enforced. If pornography is already a problem in your family and you need this information more quickly than we can post it here, you’ll be able to find it in our book A Parent’s Survival Guide to the Internet.

2001 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.