A World Without Filters

You can't say Tyler Andrews doesn't have good taste. At an auction last April, Andrews successfully bid on a 1955 Ford convertible, a Vincent Van Gogh painting, antique furniture, and a replica of a Viking ship. All in all, the Haddonfield, New Jersey, resident made some three million dollars' worth of winning bids. The problem is, Tyler Andrews is only 13 years old, and his allowance is only $15 a week. He was able to make all those phony bids thanks to the Internet. In the end, the price his parents paid was only a little embarrassment, but their experience is a lesson on the challenges parents face in the Information Age. Like many 13-year-olds, Tyler Andrews knows a lot about the Internet. One of his favorite sites is eBay, the Internet auction web site. "They don't ask you for your credit card or any proof that you're over 18," Tyler told reporters. Tyler first tried selling his best friend as a slave, but didn't get any takers. That's when he decided to go on a shopping spree. His parents first learned about the bids when they got a call from an auction house. When they recovered from their shock, they took away Tyler's Internet privileges. But there's no running away from the challenges of the Information Age. As Thomas Friedman of the New York Times recently wrote, "the Internet has become inescapable, at least among the middle class. The way [we] communicate, invest, work and learn, is being fundamentally transformed by the Web." What makes this ascendancy particularly worrisome, says Friedman, is that the Internet comes with "no built-in editor, publisher, censor, or even filters. With one mouse click you can wander into a Nazi beer hall or a pornographer's library." The only really effective filters, he says, "are the values, knowledge and judgment that your kid brings to the Web in his or her own head and heart." Friedman is right. The problem is, as Littleton taught us, we can not rely on kids having built-in filters. They have to be taught right and wrong. And these days many kids are raising themselves without any real moral guidance from the adults in their lives. The combination of the wide-open world online and a culture where parents "spend less time building their kids' internal codes and filters" is, as Friedman notes, a "potentially dangerous cocktail." The only way parents can safeguard their children from that hazardous "cocktail" is to do what good parents have always done: spend time with their kids, teaching them right from wrong, and helping them to apply that knowledge in every situation--including when they're sitting alone at a computer. Parents must also familiarize themselves with the world their kids inhabit. They must learn how the Information Age works, so that they can identify potential pitfalls ahead of time, and protect and prepare their children. This brave new technology offers both benefits and dangers, and we'd better be prepared for both--unless, of course, you've got room in the garage for a Viking ship, a Ford convertible--and anything else YOUR computer-savvy kids may order through the Internet.


Chuck Colson


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