Tech Savvy Kids – November 2006

“He’s making a list and checking it twice…”  But, before Santa Claus comes to town bringing an array of new wireless products that are eagerly sought after by tech savvy kids, parents need to do some checking as well.  Before purchasing the latest in video mobile phones, PDA’s, PlayStations, and video iPods, parents should be aware that these same devices may allow your child access to pornography.  The Religious Alliance against Pornography co-chaired by William Cardinal Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore, and the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families this year has again issued a call to religious leaders to alert parents to this danger during this Season of gift giving.

The five major companies in the wireless industry –Alltel, Cingular, Sprint-Nextel, T-Mobile and Verizon – commendably do not provide pornography on their platforms.  However, if when buying one of these devices you also purchase access to the Internet, your child will be able to access all the pornography available on the Internet.  At present there are no adequate safety devices for either home computers or these mobile devices:  most filters can be easily disabled by computer smart kids.

Addiction to pornography is increasingly recognized as a major social scourge of our times.  Addiction through the internet has been a contributing cause to the breakup of marriages.  And if adults can be harmed, children are more vulnerable still. Even if a child might not purposely seek out a pornographic site, the purveyors of smut have learned to “page-jack” innocent and wholesome sites by attaching to them their toxic material.  Given that sexually explicit material is seductive and addictive, unsolicited pornography often leads to solicited pornography resulting in disastrous moral and emotional harm to those caught in its lure.

The recent scandal involving a congressman sending suggestive text messages to adolescent boys only underscores how easily some of these new technologies can be abused and how through the immediacy of the internet how much at risk all our children are.  Many of these mobile phones and PDA’s have still camera or video capture capabilities – and some kids have stupidly produced sexually explicit images of themselves or others and sent these images through the internet.  Doing stupid things is perhaps part of growing up – but doing this type of stupid thing could also be prosecutable.  Producing and distributing child pornography is a felony – and liability could include the parent or caregiver who knowingly or unknowingly signed the wireless contract for their child or teenager.

While selling internet access brings profits, the wireless industry also needs to do more to insure that they are not indirect purveyors of smut.  In the long term, they need to provide safe, tamper proof parental controls for these devices that access the internet.  In the short term, they could begin by warning parents about the danger of unrestricted internet access.   And parents, who are after all responsible for the safety of their children, need to be more aware of the dangers and, if buying a mobile phone, PDA, Play Station or iPod for their teen or child, they should decline the purchase of internet access.