A friend of mine was checking out the iPhone with his 13-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter at the Apple store at a local mall recently when he looked up to find hard-core pornography playing from a nearby widescreen computer monitor for all to see -- adults and children, including his own. And when I say "hard-core," I mean really, really hard-core. He turned to put his body between his own kids and the screen and managed to turn it toward a wall as quickly as possible before heading over to talk to a manager. Meanwhile, over near the offending computer, a group of teens snickered.
When confronted with the news that his store, which caters heavily to families and has a children's section, was playing hard-core porn in public, the manager shrugged his shoulders and said, basically, It's a computer store. What do you expect? Not even so much as an apology to my friend or a scolding for the teens.
This scenario is so disturbing on so many different levels, it's hard to know where to begin. Do we start with Apple for not using its own parental control filtering software in a store where children have easy access to the Internet via demo computers? Do we start with the staff person, who not only doesn't understand that it is illegal to show pornography to children but also doesn't understand that, even if it weren't illegal, it is still terribly, terribly wrong. Do we start with the teen-agers, who obviously know how to access hard-core pornography at a moment's notice and who don't know enough to be embarrassed or ashamed or horrified?
It would be nice to think that the Apple store incident is isolated, a freak occurrence, but statistics tell us that it is not. The proliferation of pornography via the Internet and the rampant rise in addiction to it is a monumental problem for our society, especially for today's young people who are growing up in a world where what they see on screen is viewed as "normal." But we all know there is nothing normal about the kind of sex children and adults view through pornography. If we think the 50 percent divorce rate and the rise in unmarried couples we're seeing now is bad, just wait until the next generation comes around. How can these young men and women possibly know what to expect from a committed marital relationship when what they've come to accept is cheap, faceless, nameless sex in its most perverse forms.
That may sound harsh, until you stop and look at the statistics currently out there:
-- 420 million porn pages on the Internet, most originating in the United States
-- Every second 28,258 Internet users are viewing pornography
-- Average age of first Internet exposure to pornography is 11 years old
-- 80 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds are having "multiple hard-core exposure"
The statistics go on and on, showing that pornography is terribly addictive in addition to being terribly immoral and that more and more teen-agers are joining the ranks of adult men -- and a growing number of women -- with this problem.
My friend has gone back to the Apple store to try to get the staff there to safeguard against the possibility that any other unsuspecting parents and children will ever have to deal with the fall-out of seeing hard-corn pornography on a weekend trip to the mall, but to no avail. It seems that society at large no longer thinks of pornography as something that should be kept under wraps -- literally and figuratively. And it will be our sons and daughters who will eventually pay the price.
To learn more about how to protect your children, click HERE for "Your Family and Cyberspace," a tip sheet for Internet safety published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.