Family safety with technology
Elder M. Russell Ballard once said: “From its beginnings, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has used the power of the printed word to spread the message of the restored gospel throughout the world. The Lord, over the centuries, has had a hand in inspiring people to invent tools that facilitate the spreading of the gospel. The Church has adopted and embraced those tools, including print, broadcast media, and the Internet.”
The Church has embraced technological advances in an effort to further the work of the Lord. And well it should - since our leaders over the years have told us that we have technology on the earth today specifically to help build the Kingdom. As just one of many examples, here is what President James E. Faust said in 1999, just before the turn of the century: "100 years ago, people still traveled by horse and buggy... There was no air travel, no E-mail, no fax machines, no Internet. There has been an explosion of secular knowledge. I believe that God has opened up these treasures of intelligence to enhance His purposes on the earth. The new century will bring exponential advances in that treasury."
Our leaders have made it clear that the Lord has allowed us to develop technology to assist in building His kingdom here on earth. They have also sternly warned us of the ways in which Satan is attempting to corrupt technology usage to serve his evil purposes. Recall Elder Bednar's comment from a 2009 CES fireside: "Today I raise an apostolic voice of warning about the potentially stifling, suffocating, suppressing, and constraining impact of some kinds of cyberspace interactions and experiences upon our souls. …in a cyber world, these challenges are more pervasive and intense."
We must use technology to build the Kingdom, but we also need to be very careful that we do not fall into the traps laid by the adversary when we do.
Technology warning from the Book of Mormon
The Tree of Life vision provides a perfect analogy for our day when it comes to technology usage. This vision is described twice - the first time we read it, Nephi is relating the vision as described by Lehi; the second time, Nephi related his personal exposure to this vision.
A close study of the two versions shows that there are details in each that complement each other. By considering both versions, we can find a very powerful analogy for our digital world, and we can find an answer to the question of why the Lord would allow such an immense amount of technological advances in our day.
Lehi provides us with some details regarding the different elements in the vision – he sets the stage, so to speak. Consider specifically 1 Nephi 8:19: “And I beheld a rod of iron, and it extended along the bank of the river, and led to the tree by which I stood.” Note the location of the rod, the path and the river. They are all in very close proximity to each other. In fact, the path upon which the rod stands extends along the bank of the river. Have you ever walked along the bank of a river? It is not a safe location – in fact, if you were taking a family walk along a path that extended along the bank of a river, parents would almost certainly get after their young children if they walked too close to the bank – they would worry for the safety of their children, and might even make them walk on the other side of the path – as far away from the river as possible.
Now, take into consideration the additional details that we learn from Nephi, when he recounts the vision a few chapters later. 1 Nephi 12:16-17 reads: “And the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold the fountain of filthy water which thy father saw; yea, even the river of which he spake; and the depths thereof are the depths of hell.” How much more vigilant would we be if we knew that the river along whose bank we were taking our family walk was not just a easy-flowing river, but a treacherous, dangerous, filthy river with white water rapids, rocks and other dangers? We would indeed be more vigilant in protecting our family as we walked along this path.
The key question at this point is: Why would the Lord feel it important to depict in this vision, which was intended for us in our day, that the one and only path back to His presence lies in such close proximity to the filthy river, leading directly into Satan's grasp? This provides a great analogy for the digital world in which we live. It serves as a reminder that we can be exactly where we should be, doing exactly what we should be doing, and yet Satan's influence is ever present. A missionary could be completely prepared for his (or her) mission, and be happily filling out their mission papers – on the Internet – and they would be only one click away from accessing material that would prevent them from serving that very mission.
The first, and most obvious, danger associated with the Internet today is pornography, and for good reason. InternetFilterReview.com reports that 25% of all daily searches on the Internet are for pornography – this equates to 68 million daily searches. They also report that 90% of 8–16 year-olds have viewed pornography online, mostly while doing homework. With that much illicit content just sitting out there, it is clear that whether they search for it or not, anyone who spends time on the Internet is going to stumble across this content unless measures are put in place to prevent it.
Pornography is not the only danger that families must be concerned about, however. There are many other ways to fall into trouble with technology today. Some other areas of concern are as follows:
- Cyberbullying is a relatively new form of harassment that is accomplished using technology. CyberBullying.org defines it as follows: “Cyberbullying involves the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others.” Normally, the term cyberbully refers to young children harassing each other, but the phenomenon is not limited to our children. When similar things happen to adults, it is usually referred to as cyber harassment rather than cyberbullying, but it has the same hurtful and dangerous effects in the end: using technology – Internet, email, cell phones, etc. – to harass or embarrass an individual on a repeated basis.
- The Internet is becoming more mobile at exponential rates. Tablets, smartphones, laptops are all Internet aware, allowing full access to the myriad of information available on the Internet anytime, anywhere. A 2008 study found that the typical US mobile phone subscriber sends or receives more text messages per month than phone calls via their cell phone. In a separate study, done by Harris Interactive, teens indicated that a cell phone ranks second only to clothes in determining social status, and 42% of those studied said they could text blindfolded! That same study indicated that 1 in 3 teens are regularly browsing the Web on their phone.
- Web predators continue to be a concern on the Internet. On October 17, 2007 CBS News ran a story about 19-year old Alicia Kozakiewicz. When Alicia was 13 years old, she was chatting with what she thought to be a 14 year old girl online. They became friends, and talked about all the things they had in common. The “friend” knew all of the lingo, slang, clothes, styles and everything else that “she” needed to know to make Alicia feel comfortable that this was indeed a 14 year old girl. They decided to meet, but instead of a finding a 14 year old girl, Alicia found herself abducted by Scott Tyree, a pedophile who took her across state lines and tortured her for four days. Scott posted images of her being tortured online which led to someone reporting the incident and, eventually, to her rescue. Alicia now spends her time crossing the country talking about Internet safety. In testimony before congress in 2007 she said, “The boogey man is real. And he lives on the Net. He lived in my computer — and he lives in yours.... While you are sitting here, he is at home with your children.”
- Malicious software is the term that is used to describe applications that are written with the express purpose of gathering, exposing or doing harm to your data. There are many different types of malicious software in existence today ranging in severity from mild to severe. These can be used to steal identities, steal money, or simply destroy or corrupt our data.
Advice from Church leaders
- Elder Dallin H. Oaks: "The abundant information and images accessible on the Internet call for sharp focus and control to avoid accessing the pornography that is an increasing scourge in our society. As the Deseret News noted in a recent editorial, “Images that used to be hidden in out-of-the-way store counters now are as close as a mouse click.” The Internet has made pornography accessible almost without effort and often without leaving the privacy of one’s home or room. The Internet has also facilitated the predatory activities of adults who use its anonymity and accessibility to stalk children for evil purposes. Parents and youth, beware!"
Tips & suggestions
Technology is far from perfect, and there are people who work hard every day to find ways to get their content in front of our families and into our homes. They try to find ways to circumvent the technology that we put in place to prevent it. Elder Ballard once said "If we do not make good choices, the media can devastate our families and pull our children away from the narrow gospel path...This pernicious evil is not out in the street somewhere; it is coming right into our homes, right into the heart of our families."
There are some fairly standard things that we can all do to protect our families. These are things we have all heard before - namely:
- Keep computers out of bedrooms
- Do not share personal information over the Internet
- Learn how to use email safely: Be careful with attachments, emails from strangers, etc
- Limit time spent online
- Be careful about what information is shared on social networks
- Follow up regularly with all family members to ensure these rules are followed
- Every child or teen could give their usernames and passwords for all online accounts to their parents. Parents can review them regularly.
- Be sure to spell correctly and to use the correct TLD (.com, .edu, .gov, etc); since there are sites that pay to have similar spelled names, or are spelled the same with a different 'dot' like .net, instead of, .com.
- Always put a filter on a smart device before giving it to a child to use. Without doing this, they have 24/7 access to the most obscene pornography on the Internet.
More importantly, stay up-to-date on new technologies and how they are being used in our homes and families. Read the Tips & Suggestions sections throughout this Family Safety Wiki, and determine which make sense to implement in your home and with your family.
- M. Russell Ballard, Sharing the Gospel Using the Internet, Ensign, Jul 2008, 58–63
- James E. Faust, This Is Our Day, Ensign, May 1999, 17
- David A. Bednar, Things as They Really Are, Ensign, Jun 2010, 16-25
- Internet Pornography Statistics, Internet Filter Review
- Flying Fingers: Text-messaging overtakes monthly phone calls, Nielsen Consumer Insight, November 2008, Issue 12.
- Teenagers: A Generation Unplugged, HarrisInteractive study, September 12, 2008
- Fighting To Hunt Predators Online, CBS News, October 17, 2007
- Deseret News, “Staying ahead of Pornography,” 21–22 Feb. 2001, A12
- Dallin H. Oaks, “Focus and Priorities”, "Ensign", May 2001, 82
- M. Russell Ballard, Let Our Voices Be Heard, Ensign, Nov 2003, 16