The one-eyed babysitter

Odds are good that you have heard the term “one-eyed babysitter” applied to television and, specifically, the use of television to entertain and occupy children. The amount of time children spend watching television and, now, occupied in front of other screens–computers, tablets, cell phones, etc.–is another serious side effect of the decline of marriage-based, two-parent families and the number of two-parent families in which both parents work. In January 2015, The Atlantic reported on a groundbreaking study conducted by researchers in Australia that calculated the total amount of time children were spending in front of screens of all kinds, as opposed to previous studies which focused on television or computers alone.

According to the article, “the study would suggest that many students worldwide are probably using technology much more than the recommended two-hours maximum every day.” That figure has long been the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which also recommends that children under three avoid screens completely. A March 2015 report on the BBC web site stated that children aged five to sixteen spend, on average, six and a half hours per day in front of screens, with teenage boys spending an average of eight hours per day. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ web site states, “Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. In addition, the Internet and cell phones can provide platforms for illicit and risky behaviors.” Therein lies the real problem.

Any internet-capable devise puts its user a matter of a few key strokes away from accessing just about anything–and that is both good and bad. The access that we enjoy to information today provides incredible benefit and convenience. Our lives have been transformed by the ability to push a button and find the answer to virtually any question. One could easily argue that that is not always a good thing. For example, the need to memorize anything has all but disappeared. Still, the advantages offered by technology cannot be discarded. Neither, however, can the disadvantages and risks.

In a December article in WORLD on sex trafficking, Opal Singleton, training and outreach coordinator for Riverside County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force, was quoted making an important observation about the risks associated with our worldwide connectedness. “Never before has there been this much competition of influences on our kids’ morals, spirituality, self-image, and sexuality,” Singleton said. “We have perfectly normal parents handing their child devices that provide access to hundreds of thousands of strangers around the globe.” Internet chat rooms, social media sites and myriad other tools, apps and web sites that make communication to easy and convenient also make it, when unfiltered, unmonitored and carelessly used, dangerous. Singleton went on, in the same article, to describe a high school senior with a 4.0 GPA who had been confronted by her mother just days before she planned to fly to Ireland to meet a 28-year-old man she met playing an Xbox game. That is just one example among thousands that could be shared.

In December 2015, Tim Challies authored a blog post entitled “Please Don’t Give Them Porn for Christmas,” which he started this way: “This Christmas a lot of children will receive porn from under the tree. It not what they wanted, and not what their parents intended for them to have. But they will get it anyway.” What did Challies have in mind? “[G]iving your children computers, iPods, tablets—any of these devices—gives them access to the major gateway to pornography,” Challies wrote, after citing these statisics: “According to recent research, 52% of pornography is now viewed through mobile devices, and 1 in 5 searches from a mobile device is for porn. The average age of first exposure to pornography is 12. Nine out of 10 boys and 6 out of 10 girls will be exposed to pornography before the age of 18. 71% of teens hide online behavior from their parents. 28% of 16-17 year olds have been unintentionally exposed to online pornography.”

When parents are absent or are too busy to spend time with their children, getting to know them, keeping an eye on how they use their time and what they do with their electronic devices, they are creating opportunities for children to seek the attention they are not receiving from their parents in very dangerous places. Parents who are too busy, too tired or simply not present cannot provide the supervision, the attention or the training essential to the development of discernment that children need. Parents need to remember that children are a gift from the Lord and with children comes great responsibility. Parents need to be wise as serpents when it comes to the devices they allow their children to have, the amount of time they allow the children to use them and the amount of supervision they will insist upon while they are being used. Technology is a wonderful thing and can be great fun. Never, though, will a parent forgive him- or herself if they flip and east response of “go watch the television” or “go play on your tablet” results in a child addicted to pornography or lured into sexual slavery. No one thinks that will happen to their child, but the risk is just not worth it.

Case Dismissed

In February a British court ordered Thomas Monson, the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to appear before the court to answer charges of fraud. Monson, by the way, lives in the United States. The case was brought by a former adherent and leader of the Mormon faith who charged that Monson breached the Fraud Act by using untrue or misleading statements. Specifically, the former Mormon leader alleged that there are key elements of the Mormon faith that are false, meaning that their fundraising efforts are deceptive.

The case was dismissed last week. Senior District Judge Howard Riddle said, “The process of the court is being manipulated to provide a high-profile forum to attack the religious beliefs of others.” According to the BBC, the charges in the fraud case included the assertion that Monson “had induced two men to pay an ‘annual tithe’ based on teachings which were untrue.” There were several specific teachings that the case mentioned, including the key Mormon belief that Joseph Smith translated two ancient gold plates that he received from heaven and that the plates are historically accurate. Also mentioned was the Mormon teaching that Native Americans are descendents of Israelites who left Jerusalem in 600 BC.

The original summons was issued by District Judge Elizabeth Roscoe, who went so far as to indicate that she would issue a warrant for Monson’s arrest is he failed to appear before the Westminster Magistrate’s Court. This was a power play in the extreme, of course, since it is highly unlikely that the United States or Great Britain would have cooperated with any request from the court for extradition since Monson lives in Utah. In fact Riddle, along with dismissing the case, stated that the threat of arrest was wrong and should not have been used.

Riddle explained why the case was bogus: “To convict, a jury would need to be sure that the religious teachings of the Mormon Church are untrue or misleading. No judge in a secular court in England and Wales would allow that issue to be put to a jury.”

The case seems rather silly and now that it has been dismissed it is even easier to see it that way but the fact that a judge was willing to allow the case to proceed in the first place and even to issue a summons demanding that Monson appear is a dangerous sign. The implications of the decision pose threats to any religion, not just Mormonism. It seems that most anyone who has an understanding of the legal process and what faith is all about recognized the case as a crock from the very start. Neil Addison, a former crown prosecutor, told the Arizona Republic, for example, “I think the British courts will recoil in horror. This is just using the law to make a show, an anti-Mormon point.” The religious affairs editor of The Telegraph, a London newspaper, said that Roscoe’s summons was “one of the most unusual documents ever issued by a British court.”

Herein lies part of the problem with the judicial process, however; one judge who decides he or she wants to make a point can use the power and authority of the judicial system to make life inconvenient or even miserable for an individual or group. Some judges fear the possibility of being overturned; others apparently could not care less if they are able to make a point.

I do not agree with many of the tenets of Mormonism. I certainly do not believe that Joseph Smith received golden plates and the ability to translate them and that the Book of Mormon provides additional God-given information to supplement the Bible. But I also believe strongly that anyone who wants to believe that has to have a right to do so. Matters of faith are not issues for courts to decide. Even if it is an issue that can be proven one way or the other it is not a legal matter. More importantly, though, is that most matters of faith cannot be proven. If any country is willing to allow courts to start deciding what can and cannot be believed then religious freedom is dead.

It seems that this particular case rests on the fact that some individuals who at one time believed what the Mormons teach later decided they did not believe it…and decided they wanted their money back. This is not even a religious issue, which makes the summons issued by Roscoe even more troubling. This is nothing more than buyer’s (or, in this case, giver’s) remorse. If courts were to allow individuals who no longer agree with a church or charity or other non-profit organization to demand their money back, or to sue the organization for teaching, believing or supporting positions which the individual no longer believes, the effectiveness of any church, parachurch, charitable and nonprofit organization would be seriously threatened.

According to WORLD, Eric Metaxas commented on the summons from Roscoe that it was a “pre-eminent example of why Christians should defend religious liberty for all faith groups.” I agree, but I would go further. It is also a pre-eminent example of why judges who violate common sense and use their position to pursue some personal mission should be stripped of their position.