"On Web, New Threats Seen to the Young", so stated the 3/7/97 New York Times headline. Parents and teachers and other moral authorities are in a tizzy about the presence not only of pornography but now of alcohol- and tobacco-company ads and sponsored sites. How to protect children from this new venue of evil influences is going to be the challenge of the millennium. Are we born as moral tabula rasa's, or are we born sinners? The authorities assume the latter; given a choice between visiting a porn site to see a dirty picture of a naked body or touring the Louvre where nakedness is beauty, our downtrodden youth will always chose dirt over art. To the parents out there, be sure to keep your Playboy collection well-hidden. (You could show your children the magazines and de-mystify the whole thing, but first you'd have to come to grips with your own feelings of guilt and shame.)
Program ratings (of the morality content, not the quality) are being tried in order to give parents some moral guidance over television; the jury is still out as to their true benefit. While at first they seemed merely amusing and somewhat annoying, they may be useful, after all. Perhaps now more networks will have the guts to air programs in their uncut and intended format, since parents are properly warned of the content and, therefore, the network is absolved of any potential untoward harm to the underage viewers. In the meantime, you also have the channel-blocking option, and the good-old fashioned choice of not owning a television.
But censoring web sites? Forget it! One small point constantly left out of the discussion is that this is a WORLD-WIDE web, and Americans are certainly not the world's moral authority. What rates an "R" here may be family material in many non-sanctimonious countries. In fact, they find our violence to be morally offensive. Our moral authority-parents can simply keep their kids off the Net if they believe that access to its wealth of information is not worth the potential harm. This will also help ease the traffic...
While you await the moral guidance of regulations to be enacted by our moral politicians, here are a few tips that may help you to raise a virtuous being:
1) Sex and drugs are forbidden (unless sanctified by the church and prescribed by a physician, respectively).
2) Girls should not wear makeup or provocative clothing before the age of sixteen (or three, if contestants in a beauty pageant).
3) If your child loses at something (e.g., a sporting event, the lead in "Annie", a beauty pageant) find someone to sue so that the child doesn't grow up with an inferiority complex.
4) Keep your kids in the house with no media access (except for the Super Bowl, of course -- the Budweiser talking frogs are harmless.)
And, above all, teach your children the Golden Rule: "Do as I say, not as I do". They'll turn out just fine. Just like you.