Are We Demonizing Childhood Curiosity with Parental Blocks?

Not a single person can dispute that there is some very dodgy content on the internet and some very monstrous people who manipulate its capacity. The ‘child predator’ has become an elephant in the room for many homes and schools. With unfortunate victims such as 17 year old

Daniel Perry from Scotland, who was tricked into believing he was having a sexualised cyber relationship with a girl of the same age and was blackmailed with his sexualised images until he committed suicide in July this year, it has become a very public issue. The ability to gain access to children and adolescents is getting quicker and in higher volumes via chat rooms, instant messaging, email, social networking and even online games. The average offender is also gaining more access to indecent images of children online. This is a very scary revelation to everyone and it is agreed that some action should be taken. However, it’s a sad observation to make but it appears that the primary strategy undertaken by governments and children’s charities focuses on regulating how children use the internet and not the steps undertaken by child sex offenders.

A leading UK children’s charity, the NSPCC, has a campaign entitled ‘SafeNet’. Out of seven initiatives to tackle unsafe exposure to the black holes of the internet, FIVE focus on the actions of children. For example, parental filters and blocks. While this decreases the chance of stumbling upon some dodgy porn it takes away the fundamental good of the internet! We discuss sex education at schools in a majoritively rigid manner that doesn’t resonate with children and adolescents so they most likely will gain a lot of their sexual knowledge online.

Under the UK government in July 2013, pornography became blocked by internet service providers unless instructed otherwise by the customer with talks of further filtering. By censoring legal pornography it opens up other avenues of sexual exploration such as chat rooms etc. It also moves the debate further away from the subtle dangers of the internet such as grooming.

We are demonizing the curiosity of childhood by not allowing children and adolescents to, for example, Google what masturbation means and by doing so we are undoubtedly scaremongering parents to be afraid of the web and its power to educate.

Another initiative by the NSPCC discusses ‘Understanding how children speak and behave online’. Why are we focussed on monitoring children when we should be more committed to monitoring the internet trails of offenders? Of course this opens up a wider debate on how much we should monitor individual web usage but is it me or are we continually punishing the victims instead of the criminals in these situations? It goes back to the argument around rape victims and those who claim that by dressing a certain way or taking a certain route home makes ‘the incident’ their own fault.

The NSPCC does mention developing new technology that would eliminate the sharing of indecent images, which although is great step in the right direction, it seems secondary to a ‘re-education’ of non-offenders’ internet etiquette.

The UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) held a meeting in Vienna recently discussing online child sex offenders on an international scale. Although it discussed education and awareness for parents and children on the subject, it also focuses on the role of the offender. The responsibilities of search engines to ban and remove indecent images of children and so called ‘child porn rings’ that provide forums for paedophiles are crucial steps for protecting children from being manipulated.

Hopefully, this is a shift toward rhetoric on the issue with common sense and an approach that is more intelligent and productive than taking the easy option of demonizing children and adolescents.

Jamie-Lee Cole