#DigitalParenting: More Protection for Children Against Porn?

Story today in the news:

Stronger action must be taken to protect children from online bullying and pornography, MPs have said.

Internet firms are also warned they may face prosecution for failing to show commitment to safeguarding youngsters.

The Commons culture, media and sport committee said efforts by the industry to eradicate child porn may prove “woefully insufficient”.

Read more on BBC Online

So here’s a few thoughts from my book:

books-at-launchThe media have focused heavily on the “dangers of porn” online for children, to the extent that many parents feel they are powerless to stop it. Professor Livingstone adds that debate in this area can be difficult, as the media tend to mix up a range of complex issues into one big scare story. The EU Kids Online survey demonstrated that only 6,000 of the 25,000 children surveyed had encountered even a single sexual image online, still a high number but not every child, in contrast to the media impression.

The tendency for young people to search for adult material of a sexual nature has been common for years; in many ways it’s a “rite of passage”. The core difference is that it took some effort to acquire printed pornographic material, whereas huge amounts circulate freely online, much of it more hard-core and violent in nature than before. Those who deliberately seek this material out online tend to know how to delete their internet history and cookies, so parents may not be aware or may think that their child surely couldn’t be into such things. The EU Kids Online survey demonstrated that, because it’s so easily available online, many think that it is fine: no one can see them and they are sure that they won’t get caught.


In the early 2000s, as worries about young people accessing pornography rose, filtering software was proposed as the solution. The arguments continue:

If car manufacturers had no responsibility for safety measures – i.e. car seats for children, airbags, seat belts – and it was entirely up to parents if they chose to use these, there would be an outcry. So what is the difference with social networking sites? We know the dangers; we know there are negligent parents. We have to protect the children whose
parents can’t or won’t.

Tom Wood, a sixteen-year-old schoolboy, broke into Australia’s $84-million internet porn filter in less than thirty minutes, and as a result recommended that the focus for child internet safety be elsewhere: on educating children to protect themselves and their privacy. Filtering software is valuable for younger children, but we have to expect that older children will try to get around the protection, so don’t expect that you can install it and your job is done. Take time to understand how, when and where your children are accessing the internet, and how to deal with distressing material when they come across it. As Sally Peck wrote in The Telegraph:

No matter how hard you try, you will not be able to police your child’s exposure to everything vile until he is 30.