If you’re a parent, I have a question for you. Would you ever think of letting your son or daughter spend the night alone on Toronto’s Yonge Street strip? If not, there’s another street-er-highway you should know about that’s just a dangerous, maybe more. It’s called the Information Highway and if you’re not already plugged into it you will be soon.

The Information Highway [of which The Internet, Cyberspace and the Web are a part] is growing at an exponential rate of more than 2,000 per cent per year. It’s in our places of business, our banks, our schools, even our homes, and while it‘s one of the greatest technological developments of the nineties, it also poses danger to our children. Teenagers are especially at risk because they are often drawn to discussions about relationships and sexuality.

Several recent examples come to mind: the 48-year-old American father, arrested by Ottawa police as he was about to rendezvous with a young Canadian girl he had seduced on the Internet; the Toronto teenager who ended up with an explicit pictorial on bestiality after entering a web site she thought was about rock music; and by far the most detestable—the cyberspace porn ring busted recently, containing hundreds of photos of young children, even infants being molested even raped

Now parents, before you rip the computer jack out of the wall or pull your kids out of computer class, let me tell you there is good news. Remember when your children were first learning to cross the street. There were a few simple rules you could follow that drastically reduced the chance of them getting hurt. Well, the same applies here. Welcome to Course 101: Basic Information Highway Safety.

First, you should select your on-line service provider carefully. Do they provide screening or editorial/user controls? Do they allow you to limit your children’s access to certain services and features such as adult-oriented chat rooms, and bulletin boards? If not, keep looking.

Second, you should consider purchasing protection software. There are several on the market for about $50 which allow you to block out certain words, phrases and web sites. Surf-Watch and Cyber-Sitter are two, but the most popular is Net-Nanny. Now, the problem is that the several big chins I called don’t stock it. Of course, this is nothing that a little bit of public pressure won’t solve.

Third, communicate the potential danger to your children. Teach them to be “street smart” when it comes to the highway. For instance, they should never give out their home address, school, telephone number or other personal information. Also using a pseudonym or unlisting your child’s name.

Fourth, be alert to warning signs. Your child wanting to spend time lone at the computer or any message that is suggestive, obscene or threatening are cues that trouble may be just around the corner. Encourage your child to tell you if they encounter such messages and forward a copy to your service provider. Encourage your child o tell you if they encounter such messages and send a copy to your service provider immediately. Never allow your child to arrange a face-to face meeting with someone they met on the net.

Lastly, whenever possible, supervise. If your son or daughter has a computer in their room, get it out now. Put it in a central place in the home where you can keep your eye on them. Get to know the services you child uses. And have fun exploring the highway together.

Cyberspace with all its inherent dangers and its enormous benefits is here to stay. My prayer is that the Christian community will learn to minimize the dangers and maximize the benefits. We can either be content to pamphlet the side streets or we can propel the information highway! Happy surfing.