The Realities of the Internet
About the Guest
Modern technology allows us to obtain information faster than ever before. But with the benefits also comes danger. Internet safety expert Donna Rice Hughes talks honestly about some of the dangers of the internet, including pornography and the presence of pedophiles, and advises parents on what they can do to keep their kids safe.
Modern technology allows us to obtain information faster than ever before.
The Realities of the Internet
Bob: Years ago people referred to the internet as the “information superhighway.” Along that superhighway are back alleys where pornographers are lurking and inviting your children to come look and see what’s available. Here’s Donna Rice Hughes.
Donna: Kids don’t have to buy it or have an adult password or anything to get this. These pornographers are trolling for the new generation of users because they know how highly addictive this material is; and if they can get them hooked at an early age, they’ll have an ongoing consumer for life.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, August 17th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Your kids are spending time online, right? How safe are they, and what can you do to make sure they’re safer? Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, I love technology.
Dennis: No! No!
Bob: I love the fact that—
Dennis: Hey, I have to tell our listeners. You need to see your co-host here on FamilyLife Today in meetings. He is—He is—
Bob: I am multi-tasking.
Dennis: He is multi-tasking.
Bob: I am paying attention.
Dennis: He loves technology.
Bob: I love technology.
Dennis: I’ll bet it has caused more arguments in his marriage.
Bob: I love technology because you don’t have to remember everything—because you just have it on your hip when you need it.
Dennis: But, Bob, you already remember everything.
Bob: Well, but the other thing is, stuff you don’t have to wonder about—anything anymore. If you’re at dinner sometime and somebody says, “You know, whatever happened to Hayley Mills?”
Dennis: Yes, really.
Bob: You just get the iPhone® off the hip; you just type “Hayley Mills” into Google®; and you can find out what happened to Hayley Mills. Right?
Bob: So I think technology is great.
Dennis: And why are you using that as an illustration? Are you wanting to—
Bob: I just brought it up because there is a dark side to technology, and I just wanted to go on the front—Oh, you wonder why I’m using Hayley Mills as an illustration?
Bob: Well, she was cute. You thought she was cute, didn’t you?
Bob: I mean, Mary Ann is not going to be jealous. How many boys didn’t have a little crush on Hayley Mills? Come on. That British accent?
Dennis: It was Annette Funicello for me. That’s really going to date me with the Mouseketeers.
Dennis: You know, we need to cut to the chase here. We have a guest who is going to take us into really some very turbulent waters around the internet because she’s been working in this area since 1994. Donna Rice Hughes joins us on FamilyLife Today. Donna, welcome to the broadcast.
Donna: Thank you, guys. It’s great to be back with you.
Dennis: It is fun to have you back in the studio. I really admire your work because you have been involved in this area of internet safety, as I mentioned, since ’94. You are President and Chairman of Enough Is Enough; and you do training for governmental agencies, for schools, parents. You’re just all over, wanting to equip both the next generation and parents to know how to navigate the dangers of the internet.
I’m thrilled that you said, “No,” to CNN® today to say, “Yes,” to us and be on the broadcast. I want you to share with our listeners how you got your passion for the internet and wanting to help parents and children in this area.
Donna: The short version is that in 1994 I moved back to Washington to get married. I had been living in L.A., and I really felt that my calling was to impact the culture through the media. I had a media platform at that time that I had not used; but I had met a man that lived in Washington and I thought at the time, “God, I can’t do what I feel You’re calling me to do in Washington because everything there revolves around press, politics, and the public.”
And of course I had been caught up in that old 1987 scandal; I was Miss Scandal Queen 1987. But God—He always—I find that He wants to put you back on the horse that throws you. So the man that proposed to me—and we had fallen in love—lived in DC. So I came back to work in Washington. Shortly thereafter, I met a lady named
Dee Jepsen; and she was the President of Enough Is Enough.
They were, at that time, working to raise the awareness of the dangers of hardcore adult pornography and child pornography, and protect children and women in print, and broadcast, and sexually-oriented businesses. I thought, “Dear Lord, with my background, with all the sexually-charged issues that have surrounded me in ’87— and then this issue that was very controversial at the time—believe it or not, I said, “Why would You call me to this?” This didn’t make any sense.
But as soon as I got started, within about two weeks, someone briefed us on the early beginnings of what was beginning to happen in bulletin board services in the news groups on the computer. Now this was prior to the Worldwide Web. The internet had not really become commercialized. I saw predators and pedophiles talking to each other in these news scripts about how to molest children and what they were doing. They were trading black-marketed child pornography back and forth.
So there began my journey. I started with Enough is Enough, the internet safety program; and we went to Congress. We started reaching out to the media, to the public, and to the technology community, saying, “This is what’s beginning to happen. We can get in front of it, and we can prevent it.”
So we developed a three-prong approach to do that but found that, really, the weak link in the chain as far as protecting kids were the parents. Therefore, we created with the Department of Justice and other industry partners, our Internet Safety 101 program. That has been our focus now for the past number of years.
Dennis: I don’t know if this is about to happen, but I’ve heard increasing rumors recently that they are about to launch a new domain called “dot xxx.” Is that about to happen?
Donna: It is. This is something that has been batted around for years. We’ve taken the position—I strongly believe that this is a very bad idea for a number of reasons. One, it’s not going to do anything to protect children because the pornographers—they will be given another place to have a dot xxx, but they’re not going to be forced or mandated to give up their dot com addresses.
So the big argument—the filters are going to work better and all that kind of thing— simply is not going to happen. You can’t mandate anything because it is global. So even if we tried to mandate commercial pornographers in the United States to give up their dot com addresses here, it’s not going to do anything about the material abroad. So overall we just don’t believe it’s a good idea, and it’s not going to work.
Bob: Donna, I’m curious. It feels to me, as a parent, like the internet came online, everybody became aware of it, it did become commercialized like you said, then we as parents got an education that we better have some kind of filtering in place. We better have something to protect our kids, and so we scrambled and did that, whether it was filtering at the source or whether it was something that you put on your computer. We took some precautions so that our kids were protected.
And over the last, I don’t know, three or four years, it’s kind of like, “Well, we’ve got this fixed. It’s taken care of. We’re doing what we need to do.” I don’t hear anybody really standing up and saying, “We have an issue today with the internet.” It kind of feels like we’re lulled into this false sense of security.
Donna: Well, Bob, I think you’re right. I think a lot of parents do have their heads in the sand. In our program, when we introduce all the issues that we believe parents need to be paying attention to, we call this the “perfect storm” scenario. The reality is, the internet and the technology is neutral; it can be used for good or for evil, alright?
So the perfect storm elements that we outline in our program are the fact that kids are online –almost all kids are online by the age of six or seven years old. They’re using this technology. They have free and easy access to all types of pornography, both adult pornography as well as illegal adult pornography, which we call obscenity; and they also have easy access to child pornography, the last two being illegal.
Secondly, predators have free and anonymous access to kids online. This has never happened before, alright? Even though still the majority of sex abuse that occurs happens with someone that the child knows, but now the predators can anonymously interact and build a relationship with that child right in the privacy of their own home without parents knowing about it. We can talk more about that later.
The other part of the perfect storm is that law enforcement has its limitations—resource limitations, challenges. In some instances, they are not enforcing the pornography laws that are on the books; and lastly, but not least, parents are overwhelmed. They are ill-equipped, or they are just uninformed. You combine all those and you’ve got a perfect storm type of scenario.
So what we have found as we’ve been teaching parents all these years is that parents often fall into one of a few categories. Either they say, Bob, like you started with, “You know, I’ve got this covered. I put some parental controls on. I’ve got the computer in a public area of the house. I can check that box. I’m a good cyber-parent,” and go on.
Or they think, “You know what, it’s not that bad. I’ve heard some things, but it’s really not that bad.” Maybe they haven’t seen anything themselves. Or they think, “Not my kid. I’ve got a really good kid, a really smart kid,” or “My kid is involved in youth group and loves God, so I don’t have to worry about that.” Or they think their kids are too young. So you combine these kinds of things together.
What we find is that parents just simply have to get in the game. It’s like the sex talk; you can’t just have it once and check the box. It’s the same thing being a cyber-savvy parent. This is an ongoing parenting issue. Kids now have easy access to any type of internet-enabled devices.
It’s not about that desktop any more. It’s about the Smartphone®, the PDA, the X-Box®--that, by the way, is connected to the internet—the Wii®, the iPod® and every other internet-connected device. It can get very overwhelming, but we’ve actually created a program to help parents recognize the dangers, know what they are, and then know how to apply all these safety measures in a simple way so they don’t feel overwhelmed and they have hope and they can be empowered.
Dennis: You say, in your materials that you’ve created, that seven out of ten youth stumble across some kind of pornographic site on the spot, as they’re just surfing the internet. Give us some idea of how many sites there are—I mean, the size of the problem that is lurking just a click or two away in your home. You used to have to go to a certain part of town to find smut and pornography; and now it’s invaded what used to be a safe place, our homes.
Donna: That’s right.
Dennis: How large is the problem?
Donna: The problem is a very big problem. Pornography is one of the biggest businesses online. It’s $13 billion worldwide. Child pornography itself is $3 billion, and one of the fastest growing businesses on the internet. So it’s big, big business. It’s about the money. These pornographers are trolling for the new generation of users because they know how highly addictive this material is; and if they can get them hooked at an early age, they’ll have an ongoing consumer for life.
Bob: I think about our home computer. We’ve done what you’ve talked about—got the filter. It’s out in a public place. We monitor. I can look at the browser history and know what’s going on, but my son has got a computer on his hip. Is there anything you can do to keep your son from getting a text from a classmate that’s got a picture attached to it?
Donna: You can. In the safety section that we teach on, we talk about non-technical measures—we call those “rules”—and the technical measures, which we call “tools.” So the easy way to remember that is “rules and tools.” You can apply those on all internet-enabled devices—so the Smart phones or the cell phones—they do have parental controls. So do the XBoxes. We walk through, “What are the ‘tools’ and what are the non-technical measures, ‘the rules,’ that parents need to use?”
So with your example, for instance, you can limit texts; or you can simply disallow texts altogether. There are lots of “tools” that are available.
Bob: Yeah—eliminate texts. I mean, I don’t know what the numbers are; but it’s dozens and dozens of texts a day that the average student—they are sending back and forth to one another.
Dennis: What I wanted to do is just turn you into a supermom, okay? Here you have all this knowledge about the—
Bob: The Cyber-Nanny 9-1-1. Is that where we are going?
Dennis: Yes, that’s exactly right. We’re going to turn you into this. What I want—I know that this is not an exact science, okay?
Dennis: So this is just for you, Donna. You just help us here; but if you were a parent today of children growing up, just give me, to the best of your ability, at what age you would let your child have a phone.
Donna: Oh my! A cell phone.
Donna: I think it depends.
Dennis: Just the age.
Donna: Well, it’s going to depend. In making a decision about what technology and what age to give a child, I think you have to look, for one, with each child.
Donna: For instance, if you’ve got an eight-year-old going to camp, and you want for them to be able to call you and vice-versa and not have to go use a pay phone—if they even exist anymore—I don’t know—then there is a good reason, perhaps, for a child to have a cell phone. But there are even phones that parents can get for kids that simply just allow them to be able to call Mom and Dad and have a limited amount of people that they can call and interact with.
Dennis: So generally what age would you allow a child—would you consider this?
Bob: We’re talking about just the full $29.95 package that the—
Dennis: I’m not talking about going away to camp. I’m just talking about—they possess a phone.
Bob: Junior high? Earlier?
Donna: Well, I would say probably junior high.
Bob: Okay. So here’s a 13-year-old who’s got the new phone. “Hey, this is cool.” They can get texts, right?
Dennis: You know what’s happening right now to our listeners. There are some moms
short-circuiting and some dads saying, “Over my dead body. My 13-year-old is not going to have a phone.”
Donna: You guys tricked me. You said, “Just a phone.” You didn’t say, “with access to texting and internet.” No. No, no, no.
Dennis: I’m going there next, okay?
Dennis: So what about texting? When would you allow them to have a phone with texting?
Donna: I would look at the maturity of the child.
Donna: Here’s the thing with texting: Kids now—for them, e-mail is becoming obsolete.
Bob: That’s right.
Donna: Texting is the new thing.
Dennis: Right. Right.
Donna: Let me get into—Do we want to jump forward to Web 2.0® because this is where you’re dealing with the social web—and you’ve got all these phones; and this, that and the other connected to Facebook®; and everything else. Once they start having this interactive device that they can carry in their back pocket, it’s hard to manage without those tools in place.
So I’m going to go back to answer this initially—“With a straight cell phone that only allows you to use it as a phone, I would say junior high school.”
Dennis: Alright. What about texting? When would you allow a child, generally, about texting?
Dennis: Just place your bets to the best of your ability. You’re out there talking to parents. You’re talking to young people. You know the dangers.
Donna: Well, Dennis, we have age-based guidelines; and we offer guidelines. I think parents have got to look at the maturity of the child. I really do. Is this a responsible child?
Donna: Are they going to follow the safety contract that we put in place for technology, even when they are outside of the home? If I’m going to let them text and everything, I’m going to need to monitor that. That’s very important.
Dennis: And so they’re really mature—when are you going to let them have texting?
Donna: I think if they’re mature and the parents are using parental controls on that Smartphone or cell phone that allows you to text, I would say you could consider that in the pre-teen years.
Donna: Pre-teen. Mm hmm.
Dennis: Younger than 13?
Donna: Well, I say preteen for me is like 13 and 14. You know, seventh and eighth grade.
Dennis: Okay. What about Facebook and Twitter®?
Donna: No younger than 13. No younger at all than 13, and you’ve got to be careful there. We’re jumping ahead a little bit, Dennis, I’m sorry to say, because I think what’s really important before we get to ages—
Dennis: I understand. I understand. I’m putting you in a real tough spot, but I just want parents to begin to think through—these decisions are coming if they’re not already there.
Donna: Right. Hey, look, I really don’t recommend that kids are using the internet at all until they are at least in junior high school. There are a lot of reasons for that because, with a computer or a laptop, you can create what we call “walled gardens” so that the kids can actually surf around; but they’re looking at approved sites and they’re within an area that is very wholesome and G-rated. That can be a safe place where they can learn to experiment and surf and use the internet, but they’re not going to get into these troubled areas.
Once you start allowing that—when you now have to use a filter—then, you know, the filter is only just a filter. It’s going to get maybe 98 percent of things, but kids can also get around filters and things. So you really—I think each parent needs to recognize the dangers before they make a decision about when they’re going to introduce a specific technology, and which technology, and how they’re going to limit the use of that technology.
Bob: I should just mention real quickly that what you’re recommending to parents, you spell out in the material that you put together, the Internet Safety 101—
Donna: We do.
Bob: --how to set up a walled garden, how to use these age guidelines. It’s all in the material, and we’re going to let folks know how they can get that.
Dennis: What I want our listeners to know is—I’ve asked a lot of hard questions of guests here on FamilyLife Today and seen a lot of pained looks on faces. Donna was in pain. This is a tough—
Donna: I’m still in pain, Dennis, really!
Dennis: But here’s the thing, Donna. Parents are in pain because they are trying to navigate a very dangerous media platform. I just appreciate you grappling with it, allowing us to kind of put you on the spot because I think parents today must know what they believe and how they’re going to apply their convictions about life, and about good and evil, and how to train their children to do what’s right and to be wise in what is good.
Bob: Well, let’s be honest. There’s no biblically-approved guideline that says, “Thou shalt let the child have a cell phone when he is ten, but thou shalt take it away from the child if he does this or this behavior.” That’s not spelled out for you in Scripture.
Bob: And so, as parents, we have to use wisdom, and judgment, and discernment in order to determine how we’re going to supervise and protect a child with all of these tools, whether it’s a cell phone, or the computer, or whatever it is that our child is engaging people and the culture with.
Donna, I think you’ve done all of us as parents a great service with the Internet Safety 101 resource that you’ve created—the DVDs, the “Rules and Tools” booklet that you’ve put together, the workbook for parents and for students. This is a very helpful resource that parents may want to get and go through together with other parents or go through together as a family and talk about these issues; and then come up with what your guidelines are going to be for how you’re going to manage this as a family.
I think there may be parents who are thinking, “We’re okay. We don’t have any problems.” I wonder, “Have you checked your internet browser history recently?” or, “Do you even know how to do that—to see where your son or daughter might have been going?
Let me encourage you to go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about the Internet Safety 101 resource that we’ve been talking about here today. It’s available from us here at FamilyLife Today. Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about this resource, or call us toll-free at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800 “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.” Ask about the Internet Safety 101 resource, and we’ll let you know how you can get it sent to you.
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And we want to encourage you to be back tomorrow when we’re going to continue to talk about what parents can do to make sure that a child’s experience online is a safe experience. We’ll talk about that tomorrow. Hope you can be back.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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