Romney’s Fanciful Panacea

Quentin Boyer
Speaking in Fort Dodge, Iowa on Thursday, Mitt Romney told the audience that he is concerned about the effects of pornography on American culture. Don’t fret, though — Romney has a plan.

Romney pledged that if elected, he’ll “make sure that every computer has an easy-to-engage filter to stop pornography.”

Unless Romney’s plan involves engaging in a widespread campaign of surreptitious forced downloads targeting the existing personal computers of millions of Americans, I think we can assume that he didn’t intend that promise to be taken literally.

Setting aside the practical impossibility of Romney’s pledge, it is a useless promise at its core, anyway. Online content filters already are very easy to come by. The efficacy of these filters is debatable, but availability of filters certainly is not the problem.

If Romney really wants to help parents to address the ‘problem’ of Internet porn, he should be encouraging parents to take a more active role in the lives of their children, and take certain preventative measures to reduce the likelihood of their kids looking at porn online, or communicating with a supposed 12 year-old who turns out to be a middle-aged creep with bad intent. Some simple actions and practices that Mitt might consider endorsing include:

* Don’t allow your young children to have a PC in their own room. Place a computer in a common area where you can keep an eye on what your child is doing. A lurking parent and lack of opportunity to surf the web in private might be the most effective “filters” available.

* Your 9 year-old doesn’t need an iPhone. Why is it that every child appears to have a web-enabled mobile device these days? If you don’t want to increase the chance that your child will be exposed to pornography, harassed by cyber-bullies or stalked by online predators, perhaps increasing the number of opportunities for such things to occur is not the way to go? Just a thought.

* Teach your children a little something about sex BEFORE they start to learn about it on their own. I know this is a frightening suggestion for many parents, and it can be very “difficult;” but if someone along the way gave you the idea that raising kids would be a cinch, you have been profoundly misled. Raising your child is hard work and a big responsibility — but it is YOUR responsibility, and nobody forced you to have your kids. Get over your self-pity and talk to the little runts about something important every once in a while.

In the end, it is incumbent upon parents to prepare their children for the threats and risks associated with living in the real world, and to think that one can shelter kids from that world until they are adults is (a) wishful thinking and (b) a really lousy idea, even were it not wishful thinking.

There is no value in raising a child in denial of reality. There is no such thing as total safety; not from predators, not from terrorists — not even from ourselves. The sad fact is that the majority of abused children are abused by someone close to them, usually a family member. That is a truth that no filter can preempt and no law can address, unfortunately.

Rhetorical panaceas like Romney’s filter pledge are a distraction, another example of wishful thinking, and such fanciful notions detract from the crafting of real solutions to the challenges that face us in the Digital Age. In the end, the dilemma of how to keep kids as safe as they possibly can be when they are online might indeed involve technology, but technology alone will never be sufficient.