When the Cat's Away...

Even in the best of families.

Tzvi Fishman

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It is time for parents to face the truth and realize that when they are not at home, there is an excellent chance that their kids are watching pornography on the Internet. This is true even in the best of religious families. Sure, there are still some homes that haven't been hit by the epidemic, but studies suggest that from sixty to eighty percent of all households are infected with addictions to Internet porn.

Suddenly, the Internet brought everything in the world into the kids' bedrooms.

From time immemorial, Judaism has established walls to protect Jewish families from immorality, and suddenly, the Internet brought everything in the world into the kids' bedrooms.

Granted, there are many positive, educational virtues of Internet, but there are also many evil, destructive aspects of the Internet epidemic, as well. Walls don't help to stop it. Doors and windows don't do a thing. The virus is invisible and deadly.

Not only is watching immodest websites a clear violation of the Torah prohibition, "Thou shall not stray after your hearts and after your eyes which lead you astray," viewing leads to other transgressions. As our sages warn, "One transgression leads to another." In addition, masters of the Kabbalah emphasize that polluting the eyes with forbidden images brings a terrible stain on the soul and cuts off a person from the light of the Torah.

Many parents and teachers prefer to pretend the problem will go away, or like to think that it really isn't so bad, or simply deny that such a scandalous shanda could exist in a Jewish home at all. So, Rabbi Elisha Aviner, one of the foremost educators in the religious Zionist community in Israel, regularly travels around the country, lecturing at community centers and schools about the dangers of the Internet, and what parents and teachers can do to lessen the damage.

A recurring theme is: What should parents do if they discover that their child is watching porn on the Internet? Should they confront the child with his crime? Pretend not to know? Throw the computer out of the house? The dilemma is a serious one. If they confront the child, perhaps his humiliation will cause him, or her, to retreat into a protective shell and cause even further decline. And a confrontational approach might cause tension between child and parent, and subsequently bring the youth to either emotionally or physically abandon the house.

For parents, this is a very delicate and troublesome decision. After all, most kids realize that what they are doing is forbidden, morally corrupting, and displeasing to the norms of the community and to G-d. If the youth's obsession with transgression has not yet dulled the light in his soul completely, certainly he is not happy with having been snared in the Internet's web. But because the forbidden fruit is so accessible in the home, and because the desire is so strong, the child falls again and again to the overwhelming temptation.
What should parents do if they discover that their child is watching porn on the Internet?
Seemingly, all these young people need is for someone to throw them a rope, so that they can climb up out of their hole. So, many parents rightfully wonder, why risk a blow-up at home by adopting a confrontational approach when all the kid needs is a little sound counse?

One possibility is to install an anti-porn filter, a simple computer download that the parents can install themselves. While these systems are not 100% foolproof, they effectively screen out deadly doses of porn. To avoid embarrassing the child, the father can claim that he is taking the measure to guard his own eyes from wandering - and chances are he won't be lying, because a whopping percentage of fathers are also secretly hooked on Internet porn.

Another possible solution is to turn to a third party for help, for instance, the leader of the child's youth club or his basketball coach. This way, in an around-the-back manner, the teenager can be made aware of the social and spiritual dangers of Internet surfing. If a young person hears from a peer, or from someone he looks up to, that pornography viewing can stunt one's emotional growth and development, in the same way that cigarette smoking can injure physical growth, this understanding may give him the push to overcome the urge. Therefore, this theory proposes, if the helping hand comes, as if by accident, from someone outside of the house, this is better than risking a potential explosive confrontation between the child and his well-meaning mom and dad.

Rabbi Aviner sees this question as going beyond the scope of viewing habits on the Internet. He explains that the underlying issue is how parents should relate to, and communicate with, their children. Should parents maintain a hands-on approach regarding their teenager's development, or rather watch from the sidelines, pulling strings unobtrusively here and there?

His answer is that the middle road is the best. Too much parent involvement in the sensitive teenage years, when the child is seeking to build his own independence, can bring disastrous, anti-parent reactions. On the other hand, an excessive fear of interfering in a teenager's doings can cause the parents to become an irrelevant part of the child's emotional and spiritual growth.

Rabbi Elisha's recommendation is for the parents to keep a watchful eye on their children, weighing matters carefully to gage when best to leave the child to work out the struggles of growing up on his own, and when to step in with a frank, open discussion, with the goal of helping their child to reach his or her unique and optimal path. Just as too much parent involvement is harmful, he cautions that too little is harmful, too.

If a parent should discover that his child is watching porn on the Internet, he should realize that the child probably has a guilty conscience already and doesn't need further criticism and reproof. Rather, to find the inner strength needed to escape from the clutch of temptation, the child needs encouragement, the feeling that you trust in him, and a warm and loving embrace. Who else but a parent can provide these things? A basketball coach can be an important person in the life of a teenager, but he can't take the place of a parent. Only when parents feel that their connection with their child is blocked completely, should they turn elsewhere for outside help.

If you are interested in my humble opinion, I advise throwing all of your home computers out of the house. If this seems too radical, then at least cancel your Internet server, even if it means doing without Arutz Sheva and my informative and entertaining blog.
I advise throwing all of your home computers out of the house.

If this proves too painful, then download some porn filters and let mother keep the password a secret. If this remedy also seems unreasonable in your eyes, then chances are that Daddy has a problem, too. (People who need help to break the habit can take a look at "Pornoholics Anonymous" and the "12 Torah Steps" of recovery that we recently posted.)

Whatever you do, or don't do, it is time to admit the truth. If you have Internet in your home, then you have a problem in your house. If you are the parents of growing children, then what are you going to do about it?

Questions, preferably in Hebrew, can be addressed to Rabbi Elisha Aviner by email: aviner@birkatmoshe.org.il