A family hoedown on children's Internet access

The following is an excerpt of an exchange from GWNN - the Group With No Name - an e-mail conversation group between members of the extended family of patriarch Ed Masten, of Olympia, Wash. This exchange - spanning the political spectrum and the nation - started last week after Marty Masten, a US Postal employee in Marysville, Wash., heard a radio talkshow discussion of children's access to the Internet at public libraries. Other participants include: Deb McNeil, a full-time mother in Benton, N.Y.; Becky Masten, a waitress in Federal Way, Wash.; Tracey Masten, a graphic designer in Bellevue, Wash.; Scott Ewing, a small-business owner in Sherman Oaks, Calif.; Steve Masten, a full-time dad and part-time magazine consultant in Sandy Hook, Conn.; and Tim Weitzel, an architectural designer in Toledo, Ohio.

Marty: I am thinking of jumping into a project and wanted your feedback, especially from those who would object.

Deb: That would be me.

Marty: At our library there are computers hooked up to the Internet. There are no filters on the computers except the one in the children's section. The library's policy is not to prohibit children from using the adult computers or limiting in any way what they look up. I called to ask if they would consider putting filters on all but one adult computer. And the librarian said some parents might not want their kids reading the Bible, but the library still leaves Bibles where kids can get them.

Deb: I believe this is constitutionally correct, Marty. I'm sorry.

Tim: Maybe there are some books on the shelves that you think we could burn to keep our children from reading them, too.

Marty: I missed something. Did someone mention burning books? You may not know this, but our laws prohibit 7-11 from selling Playboy or other such mags to children. We don't allow kids in X-rated movies. Is that equivalent to book burning?

Scott: Can you show me how smut would hurt a 10-year-old? I mean really show me?

Marty: I am thinking of calling again, finding out who pays for the library.

Ed: Go get 'em, Marty. The taxpayers pay for the libraries. As such, the taxpayers should have the power to control them.

Becky: Yes, but which taxpayers? The ones who think just like you do? What about the other taxpayers who think like Deb? Separate but equal libraries?

Marty: I thought of contacting the mayor, then I was going to contact a reporter and ask if she'd go to the library and look up stuff on the Internet that kids can easily look up.

Deb: To serve what purpose? Of course the reporter can find the sickest of humanity on the Internet, as can any computer-literate child who wishes to.

Marty: Does anyone defend the library's policy?

Deb: That would be me.

Marty: Should the library leave other adult materials accessible to kids?

Deb: It is a public library Marty, that would include ALL members of the public.

Marty: Is it unreasonable to expect the library to be a safe place for your kids to go?

Deb: Well, geez, these days, with Littleton and all, where is a safe place? Safe how? Safe from physical danger? Odds are good your kids would be relatively safe from physical danger in a public library. Safe from moral corruption? Hmm, whose job is it to police children's minds?

Be it books, or the Internet, or movies, or music, it's our job as parents to teach children what we believe is acceptable and not acceptable, our values, morals. As in most other aspects of life we can only hope/pray they listen to us. We set up the perimeters, they trust us in our judgment and obey. Nice ideal, huh?

If we're as in-tune with our children as we should be, we'll know when they've strayed, hopefully, before an emergency arises.

Marty, I have compassion for your dilemma. But I have faith that your intelligence and teachings have produced a great foundation for your children. By the time they're old enough to read or cruise the Internet, they're old enough to know your basics of right or wrong. My advice is to set perimeters in cyberspace then trust their judgment - which you instilled.

Tracey: Marty, I do know your heart's in the right place regarding access to Web sites, but I'm really opposed to what you're proposing. The interesting thing is, every library I've been to in King County [Wash.] has the computer terminals in direct view of every patron in the library. I think it would take a lot of nerve for any kid to access a porno site at the library where anyone else could see. Besides, where do you stop limiting what the library can provide? Knowledge isn't dangerous, what you choose to do with it is.

Steve: In "good" families, access is restricted to what the parents say. In less moral situations, the kid will roam unrestricted with no structure - chaos.

Scott: Am I "bad" or "less moral" if my kid roams unrestricted? Computers don't corrupt people. People corrupt people. Can't I teach my kids well and let them make their own choices? Is there any age when I can let them make their own choices? While we're at it, what kinds of Web sites do you all think we need to keep our kids away from exactly? What are you so afraid of?

Marty: Thank you for your replies. I actually went and talked to the person who is the head of the Marysville library today. In contrast to what you said about other libraries, she assured me that they have put privacy screens on their computers. This was meant to comfort me, that my kids will not see what others are looking at when they pass by. It, of course, also has the effect of allowing children to look at slasher sites or "rape is fun" sites with a sense of privacy.

She added that technically, everything is legal except child porn. People can access it but if the librarian is walking by and sees it, he is supposed to stop them. This includes a grown up. Isn't this odd? Why are they imposing this morality? Is this book burning?

I'm not suggesting the library limit WHAT but WHO. I'm not saying the library can't carry the stuff that I think is poison. I'm saying that parents of 10-year-olds should be able to send their children to the library without fear that they will have access to that stuff.

Is this really unreasonable?

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