Bishop's Letter: Protecting our children: the dark arts of negative influence…
My heart skipped a beat when I heard on the radio earlier today that 10% of 12-13 year old children fear that they may have an addiction to pornography and a similar proportion have actually taken part in a sexually explicit video clip. This is the kind of statistic that should send a jolt to the adult conscience of the nation.
What worries me is that any discussion of pornography in the media seems to unquestionably accept that pornography for adults is perfectly acceptable. The problem, given its wide spread accessibility via the internet, seems uncontainable. The idea that pornography is fine for adults but we that must try and keep it away from our children is doomed to failure, both morally and practically.
Pornography is wrong. Graphic images of adults in all kinds of sexually compromised situations involving allegedly group sex and violent sex is wrong. People performing these sexual acts are presumably mostly not in any kind of relationship and have to ‘perform’ in ways that are camera friendly. This is a great way to train our minds to objectify objects of our sexual desire in a way that can lead to both casual and abusive encounters.
This stuff can get into adult minds, never mind those 12-13 year old children mentioned in the research. Whilst political parties seek to seduce us with campaigns promising prosperity, the western world teeters on the brink of moral bankruptcy. Is this really what we want for our children?
I feel real sympathy for today’s generation of parents. Being brought up in the 1960’s the only threat to parental influence over the outcomes in their children was the pressure of the peer group. Parents fought hard to stop their children hanging out with the wrong crowd (though in my case, my parents reluctantly had to come to the realisation that, in fact, I was a leading member of the wrong crowd!). It also means that much of what goes on, goes on beyond the supervision and often the comprehension of parents.
Today our children are the targets of ruthless mass marketing and, of course social media, all of which have a massive influence on them. The consequence is that the influence of parents is now receding. Seduced into buying smart phones for children as young as six, (who are well practiced in the art of using them) a whole new and often unhealthy and influencing world is opened up to our children, which truthfully they are too young to cope with.
Supervising what our children are looking at also becomes more of a problem. Most people know how to delete their browsing history and children find their way around filters on their phones and computers designed to protect them.
Of course, the problem with all this is that it’s very easy to diagnose. It’s not rocket science to see a very negative prognosis. What is really difficult is to come up with a cure. Seduction is seductive. Watching this stuff at any age is bad for you; watching it during the vulnerable years of adolescence is very mind distorting.
Is there any way that any of this can be turned back? The worrying answer to such a question is ‘not easily’. Education will play a part; the protection of the law will play a part; help for parents will be important but most important would be a robust recognition and conviction that pornography for all ages is essentially corrupting. It is naive to think that we can suggest it’s fine for adults and then imagine we can keep it away from our children. It’s not going to happen…
The problem we have is that the developed world seems to believe in ethical autonomy and the right of the individual to make up their own minds as to the way they behave. This is risky thinking. Not much use telling people to make up their own mind when that mind has been poisoned already by mass marketing and pornography!
But still there is huge resistance should anyone step into the minefield of seeking to reign in the rights of the individual. Yet without some discussion of these things we shall make little or no progress in safeguarding our children from these very harmful influences.
Our children need protecting, not just from the evils of sexual assault from predatory adults, from also the pollution of these virtual assaults on their minds.
Paul wrote “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind”. I think we need a bit less conformed and a bit more transformed in our worrying culture.