Your stomach rumbles with hunger as you slide into your seat at the new Online Restaurant downtown. On the front page of the thick menu, before an unbelievably long list of dishes from peach cobbler to Jordanian falafel, is the following warning:
“Our dishes have no health or safety standards. Eat at your own risk.”
“What kind of restaurant is this?” you ask yourself as you glance around at the other customers. Some of them are enjoying wonderful meals. Others are being served dishes that look rotten or poisonous.
The Online Restaurant of our life—the Internet—has some great menu items. It lets you talk to your friends instantly, buy new jeans, listen to general conference, hear your favorite song, play games with users around the world, and read the New Era.
But you can also view material on the Internet, on purpose or by accident, that will poison your spirit and mind, jeopardize your safety or your family’s, or get you into legal or financial trouble.
The good news about the Online Restaurant is that it’s possible to choose between the delicious and the deadly when you place your order—if you know what to watch out for.
Family-Size Your Meal
As you glance around, you notice that many of the customers eating dangerous dishes are sitting by themselves. The same situation could cause problems for you when you’re using the Internet. Try not to be the only person in the room when you’re online. Keep the computer in a room the whole family uses.
Talk to your parents if you come across anything on the Internet that makes you feel uncomfortable. With your family, set up rules about Internet use, post them next to the computer, and then follow them!
All You Can Eat
The Online Restaurant may be all you can eat, but that doesn’t mean you should spend all day eating. Even if you’re not doing anything inappropriate, too much time on the computer is damaging. Don’t let your time on the computer interfere with more important things like your school work, family relations, or your sleep.
A good way to monitor yourself is to tell your parents when you plan to use the Internet, what you’ll be using it for, and for how long. Then don’t access it any other time without their permission.
Can I Taste Some of That?
You also notice some customers wandering around to strangers’ tables and sampling their food. They think it’s a great way to get a free meal. Not only is this rude, but they might sample someone’s “arsenic soufflé” by accident.
You shouldn’t be caught doing the same thing online with file sharing. You can stumble across pornography files mixed with music files. And downloading certain songs or movies from the Internet violates copyright laws and is dishonest. There are no “free meals” in cyberspace.
Private Table, Please
You wouldn’t just give out all your personal information to the waiter or the guy sitting at the next table, would you? The same goes for the Internet. Information about you like your name, age, address, school, identification numbers, and telephone number is private. You shouldn’t give personal information in chat rooms, on bulletin boards, or on Web sites. You also shouldn’t post this information on your own Web site. E-mail isn’t totally safe either, so watch what you put in your messages.
E-mail a la Carte
Just as you don’t have to order everything on the menu, you don’t have to read everything that comes to your e-mail account. Some messages contain viruses or lead to bad sites. A filter on your e-mail account can help, but messages you didn’t order will still seep through. The best protection is to avoid opening e-mails, especially attachments, from people you don’t know. Even e-mails from people you do know can have viruses attached that were forwarded without their knowledge.
If you receive messages that are threatening, suggestive, or make you feel uncomfortable in any way, tell your parents. Don’t give in to curiosity to see what’s in an inappropriate message. Delete, delete, delete!
Entering a chat room is like going to the Online Restaurant blindfolded. There’s no way to tell who people really are. Anyone could step up and pretend to be your waiter. Be careful who you correspond with. And never arrange to meet in person someone you’ve met online without parental permission and supervision. Never send a person your picture, address, or anything else without first checking with your parents.
You can purchase filtering software or subscribe to an Internet service provider that blocks objectionable sites. It’s like asking for a menu that doesn’t list any meals with poison in them.
But even with a safer menu, there will always be dishes that slip through the cracks. If your food was moldy, you wouldn’t eat it. Likewise, when searching the Internet, even with a filter, don’t click the link to any site that looks objectionable.
Be careful when using the Internet outside your home. The Internet at schools is usually filtered. But other public places, like Internet cafés and libraries, usually don’t have filters.
Avoid accessing the Internet at your friends’ homes. Just as you wouldn’t eat disgusting food if your friends offered it to you, never let them show you inappropriate things on the Internet. If something is going on that makes you feel uncomfortable, leave immediately.
You Are the Master Chef
No one can force you to order or eat anything. Most of the time, you have to be looking for bad sites to find them. If you do accidentally stumble across something sexually explicit or anything that makes you uncomfortable while exploring Internet sites, simply turn away and turn off the computer.
The most effective protection is self-control. With the Internet, don’t give in to the curiosity to take a peek at inappropriate stuff. Each time you resist temptation and stick to gospel standards, you’ll become stronger. But you’re never above the risk of slipping. Satan’s temptations are powerful, so always be on your guard.
If you’re cautious about what you’re viewing and know what to watch for, you’re ready to order. Go ahead and spread your napkin on your lap, pick up your fork, and dig into all the good things you’ll find online.
“We marvel at computers and the Internet that enable transmission of data with remarkable speed. We are truly grateful for these electronic servants. But if we let them take over our time, pervert our potential, or poison our minds with pornography, they cease being servants and become instead false Gods.” —Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, “Getting Where You Want to Go,” New Era, May 2003, 6.
For more about the dangers of Internet pornography, read “Danger Ahead! Avoiding Pornography’s Trap” (New Era, Oct. 2002) in the Gospel Library at www.lds.org.