In a recent document entitled “The Church and the Internet” the Pontifical Council for Social Communication which issued the document had this advice to Parents in respect of the use of the Internet on the part of their children.

“For the sake of their children, a s well a s for their own sakes, parents must “learn and practice the skills of discerning viewers and listeners and readers, acting as models of prudent use of media in the home”. As far as the Internet is concerned, children and young people often are more familiar with it than their parents are, but parents still are seriously obliged to guide and supervise their children in its use. If this means learning more about the Internet than they have up to now, that will be all to good.

Parental supervision Parental supervision should include making sure that filtering technology is used in computers available to children when that is financially and technically feasible, in order to protect them as much as possible from pornography, sexual predators, and other threats. Unsupervised exposure to the Internet should not be allowed. Parents and children should dialogue together about what is seen and experienced in cyberspace; sharing with other families who have the same values and concerns will also be helpful. The fundamental parental duty here is to help children become discriminating, responsible Internet users and not addicts of the Internet, neglecting contact with their peers and with nature itself.”

This last sentence which we have highlighted is the crux of the whole issue of parental supervision. While the Council for Social Communication does indeed recommend the use of filtering technology, one need s to bear in mind the limitations of such technology . For any such technology, there will, sooner or later, be a way of getting around it – and have no illusions about this, children today are much more knowledgeable about computers than the average parents, unless the parents them selves happen to be experts in that area. Parents also need to remember that whilst they may install such technology in their home computers, this does not mean that everyone else will do the same. Children have access to computers outside their homes as well, and they certainly do have friends.

Hence, the final sentence in the advice given – “the fundamental parental duty here is to help children become discriminating, responsible Internet users..” It is a question of teaching children to be discerning, discriminating and responsible.

There is no way that parents will be able to insulate their children from everything undesirable that the Internet can offer. For that matter, the same is true not only of this latest form of the media, but has always been applicable to every sort of media available today, including the m ore “traditional” forms. It is not just the Internet which is the “demon” – books, magazines, films and even pop songs and culture can have damaging influences on the child as well, not to mention the influence of friends.

In the ultimate analysis, what it boils down to is whether parents concern themselves with helping their children acquire a strong sense of values. It does not require special expertise to do this, though it would certainly help if this w ere present. A sense of values is something that all parents are in a position to transmit to their children, provided they themselves posses these values in the first place and are conscious of the need to take advantage of daily life situations and circumstances to educate their children.

Parents today are understandably concerned with the intellectual development of their children, but we all need to remind ourselves that scholastic achievement is not the only thing that matters in life. As Christian parents, surely there must be a real concern for the spiritual development of children. And by “spiritual” we are not referring restrictively to “religious”! When one sees how a whole lot of parents go to great extents as well as expense to provide as many opportunities a s possible, for their children to excel at school, one can only hope that the other equally, if not more important aspects of their total development as persons are receiving the same sort of attention a s their intellectual development.

Certainly, it would seem that bringing up children in the world of rapidly developing technology is no easy task!

Dr (Rev) Robert P. Balhetchet