Tools in the daily battle

Rebecca Hagelin
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Posted: Sep 13, 2005 12:00 AM

It isn’t hard to convince most parents to enlist in the daily battle for the hearts and minds of their children -- the evidence of cultural rot is all around. But many lack the practical tools they need to assure victory.

For those who doubt that we are, indeed, at war over our children, consider: They are the most marketed-to generation of kids in world history. They spend an estimated $150 billion to $200 billion a year on everything from music to clothes to high-tech gadgets. They enjoy more affluence and more toys than any generation before them. Yet they also suffer from depression, fractured families and self-absorption.

Mass marketers know how to get our teens to spend money: Feed their raging hormones and emotional roller coasters with adrenaline-pumping, non-stop messages of sex, violence and rebellion. So how do you shield them from the onslaught while instilling your own values?

The best place to start is your own home. In many cases, the American home has become a septic tank. Teens at school may share the Web addresses for pornographic sites, or dish about the wildest sex scenes on television, or recommend the latest violent video game, but it’s often in the privacy of their own bedrooms that they consume hour upon hour of sludge that is perverting their views of sexuality, relationships and life in general.
I believe that modern technology can be the great liberator of the American family, allowing more parents to work
at home. It also places the wonders of the world at our child’s fingertips, providing them with endless educational opportunities. But the Internet, cable television, etc., also can bring a lot of harmful images and messages into our homes. It’s up to parents to be pro-active and smart about making the most of the good and throwing out the bad.

Fortunately, it doesn’t take an act of Congress to reclaim your home. Here are three highly effective tools to keep your home from being pumped full of cultural sewage:

• If you have Internet access, get a filter. According to a study by the London School of Economics, nine out of 10 children ages eight to 16 who go online have viewed porn Web sites, usually while looking up information for homework assignments. Why make your kids vulnerable to perverts? Downloading a filter takes only a few keystrokes. My family uses the awesome filter from Bsafe.com. For about $50 a year, my children are protected 24/7 from online smut. The filter has a pass-code override for parents in case a site is mistakenly blocked, and users receive a weekly e-mail listing sites folks attempted to visit while in your home. (Sadly, I found the Bsafe.com report particularly useful after a teenaged visitor spent a few days with our family this summer. It revealed that he had tried several times to visit hard-core porn sites late at night. I’ll be visiting the mother of this boy soon and have the difficult task of telling her what her son is up to.) I’ve used the Bsafe Online filter for three years and deeply appreciate those who developed this invaluable protection for my children.

• If you have cable television, you know there are some terrific programs and stations out there, but you also know there’s plenty of garbage. So how to enjoy good programs without being tormented by the others?  It’s easy -- get parental controls.  And the best part is that most subscribers can get them for free. A few months ago the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) launched an initiative in which their affiliates will provide free parental controls to customers who request them. Since the NCTA represents some 90 percent of cable providers, chances are you’re eligible. Just log on to ControlYourTV.com, and you’ll find out how to contact your local cable provider and obtain the equipment and monthly service for no charge. I have the controls on my digital-cable access and love being able to block programming based on rating, channel or other criteria.

• A third great site -- and also free service -- is PluggedInOnline.com where you can read excellent movie reviews. Don’t base your decisions solely on a ratings system or on the catchy descriptions in ads or on the backs of video rental boxes. PluggedinOnline.com provides in-depth reviews of content and messages so you can make more informed decisions about your movie choices. Using the service has helped me make wise choices for my kids on more occasions than I can count.

Of course, there are many other valuable resources (I included 38 pages of resources in my book, Home Invasion), and parents must understand that no system is foolproof. You are the best filter your kids could possibly have. But the above three Web sites can go a long way toward helping you protect your family from those whose values are not your own.