As we launch into this discussion of Internet safety, you should understand my fundamental assumptions, since they color the rest of the book.
1. The Internet is here to stay
Not only is the Internet here to stay, but it will increasingly permeate every aspect of our social fabric. The pervasive spread of technology is a pattern that repeats throughout history. Take any technological advance as an example: man-made fire, the wheel, electricity, air conditioning, automobiles, telephones, air travel—you name it. The technology shows up, adds value to people’s lives, and soon becomes irreplaceable.
I believe that nothing can (or should) be done to reverse the trend of technology. I believe that the explosion of technological advances since the restoration of the gospel in 1830 is consistent with the Lord’s plan for moving forward the work of His kingdom in the latter days. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be smart about the dangers. It does mean that we shouldn’t simply dismiss the Internet (or technology in general, for that matter) as inherently evil or undesirable, any more than we should dismiss air travel, electricity, the wheel, or fire because they each have downsides.
2. Your children will not grow up without regular access to the Internet
No matter what you do. In virtually every school in America, children and teachers are using the Internet for homework and research. Students check their grades online. Children do research at home online. I’m not even talking about less important technical fare such as social networking, email, online chatting, instant messaging, music services and games, although these activities are increasingly common as well.
To illustrate the point another way, if you do name extraction or other family history research, you have to access the Internet somewhere, whether at home or at a family history center. If you involve your teens in family history work, they’ll be right there with you. And when your son or daughter gets ready to serve a mission, he or she will be given a user name and password from their bishop that allows them to access the application materials online via a web browser.
Once your children are on their own, your parental influence wanes, as it should. If they have learned to manage themselves under your guidance in a world in which Internet connectivity is a fact of life, they’ll be better prepared to successfully navigate that world after they move out. My philosophy is that teen years in a healthy home should include an environment in which soon-to-be adults can try and fail in a safe environment, helping prepare them to be on their own as young adults where the trials are often more difficult and the consequences of failure more severe.
3. The benefits of the Internet are unprecedented
The dramatically increased information flow facilitated by the Internet has lifted and aided virtually every aspect of our lives, from the economy, to arts and entertainment, to education. But putting aside the value to the world for a moment, how has this technology blessed the Church?
At a Regional Representatives’ Seminar in 1974, President Spencer W. Kimball said, “I believe that the Lord is anxious to put into our hands inventions of which we laymen have hardly had a glimpse. … When we have used the satellite and related discoveries to their greatest potential, … then, and not until then, shall we approach the insistence of our Lord and Master to go unto all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”1 Consistent with President Kimball’s admonition, Church leaders consistently take advantage of modern technology to further the mission of the Church.
In 1984, Dean R. Cannon, then managing director of the Church’s Information Systems Department, said, “Our philosophy is to make wise use of technology to build the kingdom wherever it can best help.”2 To put this statement in context, 1984 was near the dawn of the personal computer revolution. The first Macintosh shipped that year, more than a decade before Windows 95 created a nearly universal desktop environment that everyone could use. The Internet backbone as we know it was just becoming stable and functional, and the World Wide Web was still ten years away.
As I read about the missionary journeys of Paul in the New Testament, I always have a foreboding sense of impending failure, like the dike is going to give out at any time. Paul traveled all over what was then a “worldwide” church and quickly found himself striving to stem the tide of apostasy that seemed to afflict every branch of the Church. I then fast forward in my mind to semiannual General Conferences of the Church, in which more than 97% of the Church population throughout the earth can experience conference live via television, radio, satellite and the Internet in their own language, and receive timely counsel from living apostles and prophets.3 Imagine how difficult (if not impossible) it would be to manage an exponentially growing worldwide Church without the availability of a modern telecommunications infrastructure.
I am convinced that the Lord has inspired the creation of the technologies that now enable us to take the gospel message to the world, to populate the earth with temples, to accelerate the work of family history, and to unify and bind extended families with opportunities for remote sharing.
4. The dangers are real
If there weren’t dangers online, there would be no need for this book—we would just rejoice at the amazing technology that blesses the world and thank the technologists.
But there are dangers, and they are absolutely real and potentially devastating. If the Lord inspired these technologies, why would He allow these corruptions? Because the Lord has always permitted Satan to inspire his own counterfeits for everything good and sacred. The Lord ordains sacred intimacy within marriage; the adversary entices to illicit lustfulness. The Lord ordains sacred temple covenants; the adversary binds in secret combinations and oaths. The Lord ordains the plan of happiness; the adversary sells “the cunning plan of the evil one.”4
11 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. …
15 It must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.
16 Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other. …
27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.4
Our challenge is to take advantage of the unprecedented blessings made possible by technology, and use them to enhance our spiritual growth and committed service to the Lord, while at the same time avoiding the snares and evil plans of the adversary.