Parents fail to screen Web Filter: Despite the availability of software to prevent children's access to unsuitable sites, few parents install the programs.

September 14, 1998|By Leslie Gornstein | Leslie Gornstein,KNIGHT RIDDER TRIBUNE

For politicians and the media, Internet pornography has become the Red Menace of the '90s - a slippery Satan, a quiet corrupter of the innocent.

And Web filters, which block smut while kids are online, are the new Berlin Wall. Senators want them in every computer in every school. Hundreds of newspapers and TV stations have praised filters, rated them, recommended them.

But despite the fawning spotlight on filter companies such as X-Stop and Surfin' Annette, some say business is lousy. And critics say parents - those who can even turn a computer on - could not care less about them.

"There are so few parents that even know what the heck is out there," said Monique Nelson, chief executive of Enough Is Enough, an anti-pornography group in Santa Ana, Calif. "We've been speaking to schools in Orange County [Calif.], and when I ask a roomful of 50 or 60 or 70 parents how many are computer-literate, four or five raise their hands."

A recent survey by Family PC magazine seems to support that attitude. Of the more than 1,300 wired parents surveyed, 71 percent said they personally monitor children when they are online. But only 20 percent use parental controls built into their Internet software. Only 6 percent use commercially available filters, such as Net Nanny or Cyber Patrol. That's up from 4 percent a year ago.

Nearly 20 percent said they take no precautions for their children.

"They are difficult to use, relatively expensive to maintain and difficult to configure," Family PC editor Joe Panepinto said of filters.

Instead, many parents, intimidated by technology, either pull the plug on the Net or let kids act as keepers of the computer.

"My kids can go to the Buena Park [Calif.] public library and use it for free," said Linda Monahan, a mother of four. "That way, I don't have it in my house. I tell you, sometimes it is more frustrating using that computer than it is using a paper and pencil."

Parents don't like shopping for filters, either, said Family PC editor Panepinto. Hence the 20 percent of parents who use controls that are already there - through AOL, for example - vs. 6 percent who buy separate filter software.

Then there's the bug factor. When mother Linda Garton first got wired two years ago, she used a filter. Now it's gone.

"My children found out they couldn't access sites they needed for school," said Garton, of Cypress, Calif., whose kids are 12 and 13. "They were at an appropriate age and ability level to monitor themselves."

That attitude frustrates Nelson, and it flies in the face of pending legislation that would require filters in schools and libraries.

"Parents are still under the impression that there is just a little bit of porn out there, or they just don't think it is really important," Nelson said. "We really do have a problem, and Johnny, if he doesn't go out looking for porn, is going to have it happen to him unintentionally."

Pub Date: 9/14/98

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