Parents and the Internet for Good and Bad

by Fr. Shay Cullen

Texting Congress | Photo by Adam Fagen via Flickr/Creative Commons

The moral and spiritual fabric of society is under stress and challenged as never before by the rapid and bewildering spread of Internet-powered social media platforms used by children, students, and the youth. At an early age, 200 million girls and 100 million boys have access to Internet-based platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, and other websites where child and adult abusive images and materials and adult pornography are easily available.

The availability of low-cost smartphones has made it relatively easy for youth to have access to the Internet, and a smartphone is a ‘must-have” for the youth for social status with their peers and for keeping in contact with their friends. While they can use it for education and learning and positive and inspiring communication, the availability of the smartphone has its dark, dangerous side. Like a chameleon, it can change its color in an instant from good to bad. The Internet has accelerated the spread of insidious, evil, and damaging child abuse images and adult pornography viewed by children and youth. It is made available through telecommunications corporations or Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

These corporations in the Philippines and elsewhere enable and make possible the spread, proliferation, and access to child abuse and exploitation materials. Many refuse to install blocking software to filter it out to protect children and adults. In the Philippines, the law (section 9 of RA 9775) dictates that PLDT, GLOBE, and DITO must install the software. They refuse to do it.

“The availability of low-cost smartphones has made it relatively easy for youth to have access to the Internet, and a smartphone is a ‘must-have” for the youth for social status with their peers and for keeping in contact with their friends. While they can use it for education and learning and positive and inspiring communication, the availability of the smartphone has its dark, dangerous side.”

Parents worldwide are losing touch with their children as the youth move away from parent control into the secret world of social media and have their own circle of contacts on their own Facebook accounts and messenger chat rooms. Through these platforms, undetected by parents, they contact strangers and make special relationships with them. For some, it is a prelude to sexual abuse or exploitation.

Parents, communities, and schools need to focus much more on the children and youth’s spiritual life and value formation. Parents need to be role models and heroes to their children by inspiring good works as an integral part of being Christian with their children beside them helping. The practical service and learning will inspire the children by doing. They will learn the value of sharing and giving, and helping.

When parents notice changes in their reclusive child, that spends long hours alone in the bedroom, or loses interest in school and studies, or has a secretive or rebellious attitude with parents. There is a possibility that they are accessing child abuse material or having a secret relationship with a groomer or boyfriend or girlfriend online. It is not always a suspected drug abuse problem.

This worry or suspicion should never be a point of conflict between parents and their children. Building a strong relationship by shared activities with non-challenging conversation and doing things together is what builds friendship. Being a friend to your child is essential for healthy family life and a positive future for them.

They will feel the trust, understanding, affirmation, and being loved by the parents. They will then listen to the friendly advice about the dangers of online grooming relationships. Pope Francis has recently declared a new church law criminalizing grooming by clerics and lay leaders in the church.

“This worry or suspicion should never be a point of conflict between parents and their children. Building a strong relationship by shared activities with non-challenging conversation and doing things together is what builds friendship.”

The damage and hurt to children start early in life nowadays. Our recent survey of a small sample of 23 Filipino boys from troubled backgrounds and broken homes and who are now aged 15 to 17 years of age gives us an important insight. They have revealed troubling and some shocking information. While it may not represent youth at large, it is a troubling phenomenon as they implicate their peers and adults as the people who introduced them to view the inappropriate videos and images. It is indicative that viewing these sexual images and videos online is widespread.

Of the 23 boys interviewed, three watched sexual child abuse images at the age of seven. Two were eight years old, while seven watched sexual acts online from nine years old, and the rest were from 10 to 13 years of age. That is a very young age to be introduced to videos and images of sexual intercourse. There is for many youths an immediate change of perspective and relationship to their parents and girls as a result. They tend to see girls as sexual objects rather than childhood friends.

Of the 23 interviewed, they watched in a computer shop, cell phone, or personal desktop computer. Sixteen of them were introduced to the images by peers, and four said adult neighbors showed them adult pornography. A stranger showed one pornography. Two searched for images themselves and easily found them online. When asked what they feel after watching, ten boys said they felt the desire to have a sexual experience. Three said they felt satisfied and self-pleasured themselves. Two said they felt nothing, and the rest said they watched more similar images online. One said he had the same sex experience; another said he took a shower and was nervous.

“How much of this was because of viewing child abuse material or adult pornography at an early age? We cannot say, but for sure, it has a strong negative impact on their self-image and how they view others.”

Nine boys reported that their first sexual contact was between 10, 11, 12, and 15 years of age. Four said they could not remember how old they were. Ten boys interviewed said that while they watched child abuse material and adult pornography, they did not have any sexual contact.

Yet all of their lives went astray. They were estranged from their parents and family, fell into conflict with the law, and stopped studying. How much of this was because of viewing child abuse material or adult pornography at an early age? We cannot say, but for sure, it has a strong negative impact on their self-image and how they view others. Many have sex at an early age. Philippine teenage pregnancy is among the highest in the world.

In Subic, Zambales, three boys 10, 11, and 12 years old gang-raped a six-year-old child after watching child abuse material and videos on their cell phones. We must stop the proliferation of child abuse material, and the ISPs must be controlled by strict implementation of the law.

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