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A Red-Light District on Main Street

If you have children who have unlimited, unsupervised access to the Internet, it’s time you discovered what you can do to protect them, lest they be led astray by the evils that await their curious minds.

Of course not. But if your children have unlimited access to the Internet without any accountability regarding which sites are visited, what kind of music or information they seek, or the kind of person with whom they are exchanging conversation and information, you have set them free to travel down a red-light district on Main Street.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
The Internet is an incredible hub of information which lies at the click of a mouse. Used responsibly, the Internet is a powerful tool that can aid an individual in virtually every occupation; grant endless hours of pleasure for hobbyists; connect a grandparent with her grandchildren in another state; assist a student who’s compiling a report for an American history class; or help people pushed for time complete their Christmas shopping. The possibilities are endless.
 
Used irresponsibly, the Internet can teach impressionable minds how to make bombs; take them inside an X-rated peep show; teach them how to use drugs and possibly where to obtain them; get people started in the habit of gambling; carry them to a chat room occupied by a pedophile; introduce them to music that’s filled with lyrics about promiscuous sex, drug use and crude language; and show them creative ways to break the law. All of this could be happening without your children even leaving their room.
 
There’s an anti-drug campaign that uses the logic that parents can best keep their teenagers away from drugs by knowing where they are, whom they are with and what they are doing. The campaign encourages parents to let their teenagers have a great measure of self-expression with a great deal of accountability for their whereabouts and their activities. This kind of advice needs to apply just as much to Internet use as to their activities away from home.
 
The truth is that most teenagers are inherently curious. They hear their friends speak about Web sites, and their curiosity is raised. What may start out as an innocent visit to a specific Web site may eventually lay claim to their minds and habits. These days, many teenagers are more computer literate than their parents. Many can easily conceal their comings and goings without their moms or dads ever discovering the dangers.
 
It’s a great idea to have a computer in a family room so accountability is higher. However, there will always be times when a teenager may access the computer when parents are not home. A better or additional suggestion is to use an Internet blocking software that filters unwanted Web sites from being viewed.
 
Most computers can be set with one person as a principal user so that settings for other users cannot be changed without access to the password of the principal user. In this way, when an Internet blocking software is installed, the principal user, or the adult in this case, can decide what kinds of material the software should filter on the system. The amount of time one can spend on the Internet and times of using the Internet can be limited as well with one of these software filters. It is also possible for the principal user to see which sites have been visited by those who use the computer.
 
If this sounds invasive, it’s because it is invasive. But when it comes to the Internet, parents have a choice: either allow every dirty piece of material imaginable to invade your child’s computer, or be proactive and invasive enough as a responsible parent to keep it from happening.
 
Some parents may not have been given any reason not to trust their teenager with unaccountable, unlimited access to the Internet. However, this is not an issue of trust! This is about keeping as much of the temptation of harmful material away from impressionable minds as possible! This is about filtering the filth that will invade a computer screen even when it’s not sought.
 
Evil doesn’t sit idle, waiting to be discovered by a mind that’s already evil. Evil is like the serpent that came to Eve in the garden and tempted her in her innocence. It comes amidst the good, disguised with good intentions, and lies about the fulfillment that awaits, in this case at the click of a mouse.
 
The Internet is a neutral medium. It is neither good nor bad. However, it can be used for either. Parents must be aware of the great potential the Internet has for both. If we are concerned about where our children go, who they are friends with and what they are doing, it would serve us well to begin with high standards of accountability regarding Internet use.
 
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor 11:3).
 
We should have this same concern for our children. If we do, we cannot leave to their discretion how they will use the Internet any more than we can allow them complete freedom in deciding where they go when they leave our home, whom they associate with or when they might return.
 
There’s a red-light district on <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Main Street. Some people don’t know such a street runs straight through their house, via the Internet. If you have children who have unlimited, unsupervised access to the Internet, it’s time you discovered what you can do to protect them, lest they be led astray by the evils that await their curious minds.
 
Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. A version of this column first appeared in The Moultrie Observer.