New Ways To Surf Safely

There’s new technology to help parents help their kids avoid pornography and other online evils, but should parents be doing more?

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Inappropriate material abounds on the Internet. So do the various technology solutions aimed to help parents handle the problem of Internet pornography.

“Anything you can conceive of is one click away,” said Forrest Collier, CEO of, makers of Safe Eyes software and a network filter known as Ether Shield. “The mission of a company like ours is to try to protect the benefits that the Internet gives us, but also give parents the tools to put boundaries around the things they find inappropriate.”

Technology companies are continually coming up with solutions to try to stay ahead of the pornography industry. It’s a major challenge.

Internet Safety’s software blocks not only inappropriate Internet content, but also gives parents other controls, such as the ability to set time limits on their children’s use of the Internet and the ability to monitor their use of social networking sites and e-mail. They can also create usage reports and get an instant alert by cell phone, e-mail or fax when a user tries to access inappropriate material.

Familink, an Internet service provider, now offers filtered broadband service as well. Their service providing users access only to pre-approved sites is now available for more than just dial-up users.

Various technologies all work in differing ways. Software products like Net Nanny, CyberPatrol and SeeNoEvil utilize lists provided by the software companies to actually block pornographic websites from opening on your computer. Critics say that such products are only as good as the company’s lists and that the pornography industry is continually changing sites to circumvent filter lists.

The free software PicBlock Image Blocker operates somewhat differently. It detects flesh tones in Internet images and blurs pixels to protect viewers from encountering inappropriate images that can be viewed simply through Internet surfing and Google searches.

SafeEyes’ parental control software has created new capabilities that individually screen videos at video-sharing sites such as YouTube, where users worldwide upload 13 hours of video snippets each minute. YouTube, while containing educational and humorous videos, is rife with inappropriate content.

In fact, YouTube recently announced that it intends to do a better job of policing itself by enforcing a “stricter standard for mature content.” The company claims that sexually suggestive videos will be age-restricted, and videos that contain sexually suggestive content or profanity will no longer appear on its lists of “Most Viewed” or “Top Favorited” videos.

At press time, though, YouTube had not implemented significant changes.

However, as wonderful as software and hardware solutions might be, media experts say they are no substitute for parental involvement.

Parental Involvement

In the end, though, the most effective Internet control is a watchful parent and a well-formed conscience.

The Church has consistently and clearly taught about the dangers of the sin of pornography.

“The use of pornography robs us of supernatural grace,” said Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., Bishop Robert Finn, who authored a 2007 pastoral letter on the subject. “As a person develops a vice of using images in place of committed relationships, our whole understanding of the proper way of relating to others is distorted.”

“Parents need to talk to their children about pornography, just as they do drugs and sex,” said Jill Manning, author of What’s the Big Deal About Pornography: A Guide for the Internet Generation.

“Filtering is a minimalistic approach,” said Manning. “Arming youth with truths about the sanctity of the body, they can be their own filter,” said Manning, saying that doing so equips them for what they might do while at a friend’s house or once they move on to college.

Catholic parents Mike and Rosie Rydberg agree.

“Human technology can’t replace spiritual discipline,” said Mike Rydberg, a counselor with Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minn.

The Rydbergs have never had filters on their family computer. Instead, they keep their computer in a public place within their home, employ rules about its use and track the Internet usage history.

“We recognize that there’s great good and usefulness with the computer, but also great potential for evil,” said Rydberg. “We want there to be as much light shining in the darkness as there can be. That’s why we keep it in our living room. If someone is going to misuse the computer, they’ll need to do it in the spot with the most traffic in our house.”

In addition to the computer’s location, the Rydberg’s also have stringent rules on the computer’s use.

“No one goes on the computer at all without permission, and no one goes on the Internet without permission and a specific reason for going on it,” said Rydberg. “There’s a heavy fine for going on the Internet without prior authorization.”

Another innovative thing that the family employs is technology which others might consider outdated. The family utilizes an older, slower computer and dial-up Internet access, Rydberg said, because things load more slowly, and it’s far more difficult for his children to quickly access inappropriate material. Because they use dial-up, the Rydbergs also know when the Internet is being used while the children are home alone because the phone line is tied up.

“It’s more difficult to be sneaky and to hide inappropriate activity,” said Rydberg. “Keeping current with technology is not always an asset to our children.”

That doesn’t mean there haven’t been infractions. The family currently has two teenage boys and another in college.

“We don’t consider freedom on the computer as a right. We reserve the right to check history, read any e-mails and check into where they’ve been when they’ve been on the computer. They know that, and we remind them of that,” added Rydberg. “We talk about pornography and pornographic sites specifically with our children and that it’s not a kind of benign feature on the computer, but something that seeks you out, so there needs to be vigilance and wisdom.”

“Each of our boys has struggled, as most men and boys do, but since access to ungodly sites will always be a temptation, each of them has learned by falling how to stand,” said Rydberg. “We’re trying to teach our children prudence and self-discipline, which is their own choice, inspired by God’s grace.”

Tim Drake is based in

St. Joseph, Minnesota.