(Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on July 27, 2013)
I read today that the UK has decided to block access to online pornography; unless people ask for it that is. Internet suppliers will install family-friendly filters and those who wants them off will have to ask for it, the UK Prime Minister David Cameron has decided.
Like a breath of fresh air, such radical decisions make sense. They are meant to protect children from exposure to something they don’t need to see, even more so, something that can alter their perceptions and create a new kind of addiction that is still new to us and, according to recent studies, not easy to get rid of.
Parents used to find magazines like Hustler and Playboy hidden in their teenagers’ drawers or tucked carefully under the mattress. It was one of those “Oh” moments, followed by a talk, a shrug or complete silence, depending on the level of openness. Life went on often with no serious damage. That was then.
Things are different nowadays. There is a world behind the screens that our children have access to, a world we cannot fully comprehend the size of, let alone set boundaries and control the information flux that increases every day and slowly eludes any kind of parental control.
Nowadays we put our trust in cyber nannies; they are supposed to be the impenetrable wall that protects our children from internet nudity and pornography. Right. Unless the kid goes to someone else’s house where the computers might or might not have cyber nannies, or, if the kids equipped with a gadget are able to pick up a wifi signal and… well, you get the idea.
To add insult to the injury, all questionable internet content used to be accessible only to 18-plus. Somewhat protected, you could say. That was then also. Nowadays, things are different in that department too. Typing the very words opens up a world that should not be easily available if at all…
Children are curious, that’s a fact. Come teenage years, curiosity crosses boundaries and we cannot prevent that, but we can guide our children on a better path. A safer one.
It is not prudishness that causes my outrage, but fear and sadness that our children are losing their innocence way too early. I don’t believe in hiding things that are the way they are or coming up with fake explanations; my boys know there is no question I will shy myself from answering.
We talk about everything and though I never thought I will one day have “the talk” with a straight face, well, I did. We did. And more will follow. They will always have the option of reading instead, but for now they prefer talking. Questions and honest answers deepen trust on both sides.
Wanting to play grownups, children see things should not. Way before learning what a loving respectful relationship is about, children have access to information that is erroneous and addictive in a way that has been compared to drug addiction.
What is a parent to do? Aside from bringing difficult topics to the table and setting a good example, trusting that our children will be able to resist temptation and peer pressure remains the sole mid-ocean bobbing barrel we can hold onto. But it may not be enough.
We cannot ask teenagers to be responsible for guarding themselves entirely. Temptation can get the best of them to lower the guard. It is high time we look for ways that can help protect young minds from unnecessary exposure that pushes them into unripen adulthood, stealing their innocence way too soon.
One can argue that such content is meant for adults and teenagers and children should not be privy to it. Therein lies the problem though: They are. Whether we want them or not, whether we are aware of it or not, children have access to online pornography and that’s that. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we can find a way to prevent it.
Also, let’s not forget or ignore, online pornography is often the result of sexual slavery, yet another black eye on the face of our world. Our acting on one end might bring enough awareness and courage for people on other ends to act towards stopping and preventing it, from victims to survivors to by-standers.
If all parents and educators ask for family-friendly internet filters because we realize the danger of easy access to online pornography, it will happen sooner than later. In all fairness, we are a couple of years late as it is, but there is still time to act.
Our children’s innocence is priceless, let’s allow them to keep it for as long as possible. From family to society level, we will all benefit from it.