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Porn Free 
By J. Wylie Hartwell

Hey mom and dad, how many pornographic web pages do you think your children can easily access via the Internet? Would you believe half a billion? Believe it! Don’t think for a second that your children will not fall prey to pornographers if left to surf the Internet without proper safeguards. These peddlers of filth and immorality are not only destroying children’s innocence but entire families as well.

The “Pornification of America” has been coined in recent years to describe pornography’s skyrocketing climb from seedy magazine stands and adult movie stores to mainstream society. It is now everywhere but, most prevalent and at its most vile, on the Internet.

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security thinking that you or your children are immune to this plague ravaging society. The multi-billion dollar pornographic industry uses many forms of deception to lure Internet surfers unsuspectingly to their websites. I can guarantee you that if you have children using a computer with no parental controls and filtering software, they have already been affected. Even with filtering software, technology is not the complete answer. There is much you need to know and do to protect your children.

How can I convince you that your children are at risk? What if I told you that one of the largest groups of viewers of Internet pornography are youth between the ages of 12 and 17, and that the average age at which children are first exposed to online porn is 11-years-old? One in five kids, 10-17-years-old, has received unwanted sexual solicitations online. The U. S. Attorney General reports, “at any given time there are 50,000 predators on the Internet prowling for children.” In my opinion, that number is low due to the fact that there are more than 600,000 registered sexual offenders in the United States (the ones that have been caught) with nearly 40,000 in Florida alone.

These sobering facts should put to rest any doubt about the absolute necessity of taking precautions to protect your family. You can begin by educating yourself about the various computer products on the market that will help you safeguard your children.

Next, install Internet filters and parental controls on your computer. When selecting a filtering system, keep in mind that most will work for younger children. However, by the time they are 10 or 11-years-old, you will want a system that incorporates features that you can tailor to your family’s specific needs. In addition to website filtering, you may want to consider features such as chat blocking, email filtering, a key logging function, detailed computer usage reports and immediate override, to name a few.

It is important to remember that technology safeguards are not the total answer. No filter is 100 percent effective. You need to combine high-tech filtering systems with low-tech Internet usage ground rules.

Sit down with your family and discuss computer usage rules. Establish a checklist of rules and post them next to the computer. The list for children should include:

• No personal information (name, home or email address, phone numbers, school name, home town, etc.) is to be shared with anyone on the Internet.
• Never upload your picture or those of your family and friends.
• Never reply to emails or participate in chat sessions containing threatening or vulgar language - and be sure to tell mom and dad.
• Never meet someone in person that you met online.

Parents, you may want to consider the following suggestions:

• Place the computer in the most public area of the home, such as your family room or the kitchen. Monitor children’s usage.
• Never allow a computer in the child’s bedroom.
• Have a serious talk with the older children about predators.
• Set time limits on Internet usage to allow time for some real family interaction.
• Keep secret all passwords used for filtering systems and parental controls.
• Get to know who your children’s “online” friends are, just as you would want to know who their real world friends are.

Be aware that the home computer is not your only challenge. You should consider the computers in the homes of your relatives, your children’s friends, the school and public library, the latest Web enabled cell phones, and video iPods.

Do you know what a social networking site is? It seems like every kid in America over the age of nine has contributed to one. My is the largest with some 200 million members. Every parent needs to know if his or her child has a personal site because predators frequent chat rooms and social networking sites looking for targets - your children. You must learn the ins and outs of social networking: how to check if your children are members, what to do if they are, how to remove their profile or at least make it private.

In closing, I would like to quote from Bishop Paul S. Loverde’s 2006 pastoral letter, Bought With a Price: Pornography and the Attack on the Living Temple of God. “We stand at a threshold - either we can continue to allow this plague to spread … or we can take concrete steps to uproot it in our lives, our families, our neighborhoods and our culture.” The battle lines are drawn and families - moms, dads and extended family - must be the first line of defense in protecting our kids. It is time to take a stand.”

J. Wylie Hartwell is a parishioner at St. Catherine Parish in Orange Park. He has published a booklet entitled, Kid Safe Cyberspace: A Parents Guide. To order a copy, visit

Helpful Resources for Parents

Your Family and Cyberspace, a statement by the U.S. Catholic Bishops, June 16, 2000. To view online, visit or order the printed version by calling (800) 235-8722. Ask for publication number 5-381.

The National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families. Visit - the website designed to help you find the Internet Safety solution that will best suit your needs.

What the Church Teaches about Pornography by Our Sunday Visitor. To order the pamphlet, call (800) 348-2440 or visit