1. Pounds, Kathy MEd, MLIS

Article Content

All children require nurturing, protection, and guidance from adults as they gradually learn to care for themselves. The Internet, designed primarily for adults, contains much that is worthwhile for young people, intermingled with much that is unsuitable. In my opinion, a good Internet filter is a tool, albeit an imperfect one, that can be used to help shield children from inappropriate adult material on the Web during the years when children may not possess the skills or wisdom to adequately take care of themselves.


Although concerns about censorship and children's rights to unrestricted information are valid, I believe that arguments favoring the use of filters to limit children's access to the Internet place a high priority on the protection of children, and are legitimate. I believe that critics who maintain it is enough to teach children to "do the right thing" are naively optimistic; they forget the natural curiosity of childhood, the influence of peers, and the lure of the forbidden.


When children go online, they explore a world rich with information and misinformation, rich with images that show, explain, or titillate. Inadvertently, or deliberately, children may eventually access Web pages with adult content. How they react and whether the content affects them significantly, moderately, or not at all depends on their maturity and degree of sophistication. What may be humorously provocative to a child of 12 may frighten a child of 7. What might be easily dismissed by a young adult of 16 might haunt an 11-year-old. It is impossible to predict and often difficult to identify the consequences of exposure and overexposure. The number and intensity of the Internet's graphic images justify concern about their availability to children. While an earlier generation may have skimmed through issues of National Geographic or Playboy looking for photographs to satisfy its need for information about the facts of life, today's generation of young people, if permitted unrestricted access to the Web, can quickly locate thousands of pages of hard and soft porn. They may view still photographs documenting hate crimes or torture, and replay over and over news video clips showing a beheading. The potential for such images to frighten, desensitize, or influence what young people regard as normal or acceptable should not be underestimated.


In my opinion, a good Internet filter is a tool, albeit an imperfect one, that can be used to help shield children from inappropriate adult material on the Web.


Although Internet filters and blocking devices do not provide the kind of constant, one-on-one supervision provided in an ideal home or library situation, they do reduce access, both intentional and accidental, to inappropriate or adult content. Libraries control what materials are available to children through their selection policies: documents that articulate the purpose of a library and the range of its collection of books, magazines, audio-tapes, and movies. Materials showing violence or sexual images and those promoting bigotry, criminal activities, and alcohol and tobacco use are understandably not included in a collection of materials for children. A well-chosen Internet filter helps ensure that such materials are not readily available to children through the World Wide Web when they go online at a library. If a Web site is erroneously blocked, a librarian should be able to have the problem corrected.


Obviously, filters are not designed to eliminate the need for adult supervision or take the place of thoughtful instruction and guidance. Children must be taught when it is appropriate to use the Internet to find information and entertainment, and how to construct a search and use search engines to find what they want. Just as children are taught how to answer the phone when a parent is not home, or told what to do if someone approaches them in the mall, they need to be taught what to do when they run across something on the Web that frightens them or makes them feel uncomfortable. Internet use should be monitored and limited as one would monitor and limit other media (television, videos, and computer games), changing limits and restrictions as children mature and learn to responsibly and confidently handle situations that challenge them.


Unquestionably, adults' access to the Internet should not be restricted, but children are not adults; their need for uncontrolled access to information should be balanced by their need for protection and guidance. An effective Internet filter can be a useful tool in achieving this balance. For a further discussion of filters and specific information about Internet safety products, go to GetNetWise at