MILWAUKEE (June 14, 2000) -- Internet literacy for families will be discussed by the U.S. bishops when they take up the statement "Your Family and Cyberspace," during their Spring meeting in Milwaukee, June 15-17.
The statement was developed by the Bishops' Committee on Communications, chaired by Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida.
The document is a response to people's concerns about obscene and hate-filled material on the Internet and also about Web sites which claim to be "Catholic" in nature but may not be.
The document notes Internet benefits but cites concerns such as the easy access it provides children to pornography or other potentially damaging information such as hate messages and information on getting and using weapons.
"It takes only a few mouse-clicks for an inquisitive child to find a sea of sexually explicit or gratuitously violent and hate-filled material, sometimes disguised under web addresses that sound harmless and even helpful," the proposed statement said. "Many of the hard-core pornographic sites ask, 'Are you 18?' but there is no way of gauging how many of these sites attempt to verify the answer before providing free samples of their wares. Even accidental contact with this variety of harmful material can have its effect."
The statement also notes that "religion can greatly benefit from the proper use of Cyberspace, whether from handy services such as helping travelers find a church for Mass or from the resources for scholarly research in a variety of church-related topics. However, it added, "Cyberspace has become filled with a great deal of misleading or simply inaccurate information on the Church."
"Just because you can find it on the web doesn't mean it's true; and just because a site uses 'Catholic' in its name doesn't mean it reflects the teaching and practice of the Catholic faith," the bishops note.
"Approach all 'Catholic' sites not connected with recognizable Catholic institutions or organizations critically. Be aware that there are those who use Catholic-sounding names to spread anti-Catholic propaganda and even pornography," they note. "Talk to someone at your parish or diocese if you encounter 'Catholic' sites that contain unfamiliar information or odd claims."
The statement offers a checklist for parents:
- Take the time to become educated about the Internet -- it's an investment in the safety and health of your children.
- Select an Internet Service Provider (ISP) that provides the option of ISP-filtered access.
- Put any computer with Internet access in a public area of the house -- not in a bedroom or den.
- Spend time on the Internet with your child, even if you are only an interested learner -- you may be surprised by how much you enjoy it.
- Encourage your children to think about what they find on the Internet and to ask you if, for instance, they find "Catholic" information that doesn't sound like what they've learned about the Church at home or in school.
- Focus on the good sites and material available.
- Guide your children in how to use e-mail responsibly. It's a fun and useful part of the Internet, if used properly.
- Encourage your children to bring anything questionable to your attention, and praise them for bringing problems to you.
- Caution your children never to give personal information -- such as name, address, or telephone number -- to anyone on the Internet without your permission, and never to send their pictures.
- Tell your children not to fill out questionnaires they find on the Internet without your permission.
- Tell your children not to respond to any belligerent or suggestive contact or anything that makes them uncomfortable -- and to let you know if anything like that happens.
- Do not permit face-to-face meetings with people they meet on the Internet, unless there's a good reason to do so and you or someone you trust is present.
- Don't overreact if your children bring something inappropriate to your attention, or they will be intimidated and not do so again.
- Don't miss the significance of hidden disks -- usage of pornographic or hate-filled material tends to be secretive.
- Remind your children that these rules apply whenever they use computers at locations outside the home, such as libraries.
- Above all, communicate. The best protection is good relationships and a healthy Christian family life in which family members talk and pray together.