Staying Spotless in a Sea of Slime – Part 4
by Clark L and Kathryn H. Kidd

Just as you do in other areas, it is important that you trust family members to follow your computer rules until they have proven they cannot. Let them know what the rules are, remind them of the rules when appropriate, and then expect them to follow the guidelines. As we mentioned in our last column, we strongly encourage you to draw up a contact of behavior that family members are expected to abide by – and then have each family member sign that contract as an agreement to live by the rules.

Once the contract is signed, give family members the benefit of the doubt, but keep your eyes open at the same time. Human beings – even your family members – are subject to temptation. Your family members may run into Internet pornography by accident, or they may be introduced to it by somebody else. Children may also be seduced by online pedophiles. In any case, the door is hard to shut once it has been opened. Parents should be ever vigilant to make sure that pornography hasn’t gotten its hooks into any members of the family, or that a child isn’t being stalked by an online predator.

There are certain behaviors that indicate a child is not following the rules, or that he has attracted the attention of a sex offender. Many of these rules are applicable to adults, too. Although none of these symptoms by themselves prove that illicit activities are taking place, be suspicious if you start seeing a number of these warning signs:

. The child starts to spend an excessive amount of time online. Although some of this is normal as children learn about the wonders of the Internet, a sudden excessive desire to be online should arouse suspicions.

. The child is online at unusual times of the day, especially late at night or when other family members are not at home. Most sex offenders are online during the evening, so you should take extra care to control evening access. Needless to say, pornographic web sites are available at any time.

. The child spends most of his time in chat rooms. This is where sex offenders usually contact their victims. It could be that your child just doesn’t realize how many other resources may be enjoyed online. If so, you need to teach him.

. The child looks guilty or acts startled when you enter the room containing the computer. He might turn off the monitor or cause it to switch to another screen so that you can’t see what he has been viewing. When he uses the printer, he removes the printed material immediately and puts it away so that you can’t see the printed side of the paper.

. The child gives evasive answers when you ask questions about his online activities.

. You find pornography stored on the computer. Child pornography is often used by sex offenders to get children curious about such activities.

. The child starts to save files on floppy disks, which he then removes and takes with him. Although there are legitimate reasons for using floppy disks, the use of removable disks may also indicate that improper files are being sent and saved.

. The child starts to receive phone calls from strangers, particularly long-distance phone calls.

. The child starts making unusual long-distance calls. Sometimes these can be uncovered by looking at your long-distance bill, but this isn’t always the case. Some sex offenders tell children to call them collect, or even establish toll-free lines.

. The child receives unusual mail or packages that are unmarked or that are from people you don’t know. Sex offenders often send pictures, gifts, or even plane tickets through the regular mail. Or family members could be ordering pornographic materials through Internet sites.

. The child suddenly becomes withdrawn from the rest of the family. He may be hostile to family members or uninterested in family activities. Indulging in illicit activities causes guilt that may cause family members to withdraw in shame. In addition, some sex offenders try to disrupt family harmony to build a closer relation with the child.

. You suspect the child might be accessing the Internet through someone else’s account. Sex offenders will often supply an alternate user name and password that bypasses the controls you may have in place on the child’s regular account. Your child might also be using such an account away from home, such as at school or the public library.

. You start seeing unfamiliar charges on a family credit card. Internet pornography isn’t free. It has to be paid for somehow. Children may copy and use a credit card number, counting on the fact that many credit card users don’t inspect their monthly statements.

Parents who have a good relationship with their children will often have a spiritual sense that tells them when the child is having problems. These feelings should not be discounted, especially when some of the warning signs listed above are present.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that pornography only traps men, or adults, or people who aren’t active members of the Church. Anyone can become hooked on pornography – from innocent children to temple recommend holders. Your family is not exempt from a potential pornography addiction, no matter how much you may want to believe that this is the sort of thing that happens to other people. You are the safeguard who is standing between pornography and your family, and your vigilance is essential.

If you suspect your family members are breaking the rules, there are ways to check your computer to see where they have been spending their time. As a parent, you can track down clues in much the way that Sherlock Holmes looked for clues at the crime scene. We will explain some of these methods in future columns.

Children should understand and agree that their parents always have the right to access their online accounts and check their activities. Some children will probably not like this, and some parents themselves may not be too keen on it. After all, it goes against the rules of trust, and it’s the electronic equivalent of going through your child’s dresser drawers looking for bad things. But just as Mom and Dad set the rules for using the family car, they should also set the rules for using the family computer. Although most parents will not need to access their children’s accounts often, they should still maintain the right to do so when necessary. Many times, just the fact that family members know they could be monitored will inspire some of them to keep the rules.

For the first violation of online rules, you may consider giving a warning. Some children are so embarrassed to be caught viewing pornography that they only need to be caught once before they repent and follow the rules thereafter.

If you catch a family member exploring improper material, don’t assume he is doing it on purpose. Many Internet sites, particularly ones that feature pornography, go out of their way to make sure they can easily be found. Family members may stumble upon such material while looking for harmless information.

As a parent, it is your responsibility to determine how many warnings your children should receive. As a general rule, warnings should be given while the rules are still new, but should be replaced with punishment when the family member knows he is breaking the rules. Punishments should be strictly enforced. Each violation after the first should result in increasingly severe punishments.

One common punishment is the loss of online privileges, or the imposition of stronger parental controls. If you take away privileges, don’t rely on the child’s word that he won’t get online. After all, he broke his word when he broke the rules he’d agreed to follow. Instead, use the software to lock the child out of the system. One way to do this is to change the password used to access the child’s user name, and don’t reveal the new password until the probation period is ended. During the probation period, make sure your child is not spending time with friends who are online. You might require the child to be “grounded” at home for the duration of the period.

If this seems harsh, remember that anyone who exposes himself to pornography is in danger of becoming addicted to pornography. A child who exposes himself to pedophiles is in danger of losing his life. And a child who obtains and uses your credit cards can run up thousands of dollars in charges before you even realize you have a problem. Penalties for violations of your computer rules should be stiff, and they should be rigorously applied. If your child whines about the stiffness of the rules, this is no time to take pity on him. The safety of your family is at stake. If he pays the price this time, he may learn his lesson.

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