IMHO Welcome to IMHO, a weekly column written by the staff members of Internet Underground. Every Tuesday, we bring you fresh commentary and present our own personal takes on the Net.

Get Your Kid Off My Internet

By Troy Brophy   May 13, 1997
(Kept on an extra week by popular demand)

The Chicago police are seeking a man who last month displayed pornographic images to various children and then asked them a number of suggestive questions. No, this didn't happen on some sleazy adult chat site, or for that matter a "kids only" chat room; it happened in a real neighborhood on the North side, in real life.

It makes me wonder what parents are supposed to do these days to keep their kids out of harm's way. Home-teaching to avoid exposure to the outside world and its prurient ways? Block all cable channels except The Family Channel (good ol' Pat Robertson's own pride and joy) and Nickelodeon?

In reality a parent has very little to say about what their children are exposed to once they walk out the door. That's why rules are laid down. "You can't ride your bike out of the subdivision." "You can't go farther south than 61st Street." "Don't EVER let me catch you near the old Johnson house!" We all heard something similar in our youth. It's the best any parent can hope for--that their kid will abide by the rules.

Now the Internet opens the door on a whole new world of questionable morals and improper thoughts. Sure, there are graphic depictions of every sex act know to man, easily available for free 24 hours a day. Certainly there are chat rooms and IRC channels where adults discuss all manner of perversions. Innocent young children can stumble across such depravity. Some kids are actually seeking said smut out (many people refuse to believe that their child can be experiencing the overwhelming urges associated with puberty) and hitting paydirt with a simple search engine query.

My question is why?

Why are there young children exploring the Net unescorted? Would any parent in their right mind turn their 13-year-old loose in Times Square with instructions to "be back in a few hours?" No one is that stupid, right? Yet somehow, the kids get logged onto the Net from home and surf to their hearts' content.

In response to this problem, conservative religious leaders prod and poke at legislators to find a way to install bans on indecent behavior across the largest global network of free-thinkers to ever exist on the planet. They whine that kids surfing the Net are subject to all sorts of horrors, from pages about the rights of homosexuals, racial minorities and women to blatantly sexual images.

Software companies kick in their two cents by offering products that will censor the Net. CyberSitter promises to ban "any site that focuses on topics such as adult or sexual issues, illegal activities, bigotry, racism, drugs, or pornography." But as can be seen in IU's Flamethrower from April, they may not be the best or most impartial judges of what is "unsuitable."

The solution seems so simple that maybe it has eluded everyone. I have yet to see a home dial-up service that doesn't require a password to log in. Why not keep this password a secret from the kids? That way, they'll only be able to use the Internet when parents are there to log them on and supervise. If you are worried that your child will install some service provider's "freebie" software to use the Net, install a simple security application (e.g. Berkeley's WebMax) that will require a password to access Internet related files and directories. Why have access to the Net anyway if you know less about it than your 8-year-old?

As for Internet access from schools--is it really necessary to provide that if there's a risk that schoolchildren will go surfing for porn? Rather than censoring Internet communications to let children connect from school, we could wait until the technology exists to let schools easily choose which parts of the Net they want their students to see. In the meantime, kids can get their information from library books or CD-ROMs. Also in the meantime, instead of wiring every public school to the Net, why don't we try spending the money on textbooks printed within the last decade?

If parents would just start to think of the Net as busy metropolis rather than a library (and one they'd like to restrict to nothing but the childrens' section), they might think twice about setting Junior down in front of the new boob-tube to keep him quiet for an hour.

We welcome your comments at

Previous IMHO's
March  4, 11, 18, 25
April  2, 8, 15, 23, 29
May  6