To Filter or Not to Filter
One day the discussion in our ladies' Sunday school class turned to dangers on the Internet.
"I don't use a filtering program," announced Leslie, a computer-savvy mom with three teenage males in her household.
I turned to her in amazement. "Whyever not?"
"Because I can check the computer's history without the boys' knowing it," she replied. "I would
rather keep tabs on them to see what they're up to when they think I'm not watching."
The power of porn
That attitude might be fine if no harm resulted from children viewing pornography, but quite the
opposite is true. Pornography exerts a powerful attraction, especially on visually-oriented males,
and can quickly trap a child's mind. Sometimes it takes only one exposure. As Dr. James Dobson,
psychologist and founder of Focus on the Family, puts it, "The kind of obscenity available to
teenagers today has the capacity to grab and hold a boy for the rest of his life."1
But how many teens are actually at risk of encountering hardcore pornography online? According to
the Pew Internet and American Life Project's latest survey in March 2005, 19 million youth live in
homes with Internet connections; yet only 54% of those families use Internet filtering or monitoring
software.2 Keep in mind, we're only talking about teens. Millions more children live in
those homes with unprotected Internet access.
While the Pew researchers seemed pleased with the increase in use of online filters, I was shocked
that almost half of families fail to use this essential and relatively inexpensive means to protect
their children from pornography.
A filter is software that limits access to web sites based on content, words, and/or graphics. The
two categories of filters are:
- Client-based: filtering software you install on your computer
- Server side or ISP filter: filtering done through your Internet service provider
There are a number of different filters in each category, and each has its advantages and
disadvantages. While none is foolproof, some provide more protection than others. For an impartial
discussion of the types of filtering software, the classes of sites they filter, and their pros
and cons, go to
To compare different filtering programs
along with their features and prices, go to
Reasons some parents resist using filtering software include:
- I can't afford it. If money is truly an issue, several organizations offer free filtering and
parental controls. Just search for "free Internet filter." Research carefully, however, or you may
get what you pay for. For filtering companies that charge for their software, most are reasonably
priced, and some offer free trial periods. These may be one-time purchases, monthly charges, or
yearly fees. Filtering software that I researched ran from $29 to $72, with a few charging small
set-up fees and/or additional charges for more than one computer. That's $6 or less a month!
Internet access costs more than that.
- It will slow down my computer. Filtering programs have improved dramatically in the last few
years. Compare the products available and find one you can live with.
- It will block sites I want to access. See above. Client-based filters allow you to override
the program using a password. Even some server side filters will individualize the amount of
blocking available for each member of the family. Others will unblock some sites at your request.
- It won't filter out all objectionable sites. The filtering companies do all they can to stay
one step ahead of pornographers, but it's just not possible. However, they do provide a layer of
protection that just may make the difference for that moment your back is turned.
- I want to know what my children are doing online. That was Leslie's excuse, too. But you may be
surprised to find your children have learned to delete your computer's history, erasing all traces
of their web activity?a skill many high school students are taught in computer class. Several filtering
programs now include monitoring tools that will email one or more designated addresses with a list of
sites visited by your computer. You can also purchase a separate monitoring program or download one for
free from various sites.
- I trust my child. Don't make me go there. I trusted my child, too, and had every reason to. But he
fell to temptation just as many other good men before him. If we think our children are infallible—if
any of us thinks we are infallible—we just may be deceiving ourselves as it says in 1 John 1:8: "If we
say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."
When it comes down to it, how much is your child's safety worth? A little money and possibly some
inconvenience? We need to use every means available to protect our children. If we don't, we leave the
door wide open to pornography's powerful temptation.
While I believe any family with Internet access should use a filter, don't let a blocking program lull
you into a false sense of security. Almost any filter can be circumvented. Spyware exists that will
capture and save override passwords used with most client-based filters. Kids can download trial
versions of another ISP and "dial around" a server side filter. News groups, file sharing, and social
networking can carry pornographic content that filters don't block. There are even misguided
individuals who maintain web sites where your teen can find information to disable almost any type of
Just remember, you are still your child's most important protection against pornography.