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Online Safety – Let’s Put Children First

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu.

Tuesday 4th September 2012

The Archbishop of York has written today in the Daily Mail about the importance of protecting young people using the internet. His article follows...

This week, on 6th September, the Government consultation into Parental Internet Controls will officially close.

 

This is our last chance to put across to Ministers our concerns about the growing amount of inappropriate material on the internet being accessed by children and young people.


Firstly, I want to thank Tim Loughton and Lynne Featherstone for holding this consultation and giving people the chance to air their views on this serious issue.

 

The internet can be a wonderful educational tool. It is good that a growing number of children have access to the internet – but it is important that this is done in a safe and controlled environment.

 

99% of people aged 7-16 have used the internet – when this is done in a public environment such as a school or library, it is usual that a certain amount of safeguards are put in place.

 

However 91% of the same group access the internet at home, and 66% do so in their own room without any parental supervision. Currently it is up to parents to opt-in to packages which will block inappropriate content – many do not, for a variety of reasons, and it is clear we need to make this process simpler.


In our modern world parents have an increasingly hard time protecting their families from online dangers and it is right that we put proper protections in place.

 

In our society there is a growing loss of innocence caused by increased sexualisation on TV, in films, music, magazines,  even in the products on our supermarket shelves.

 

We can see it in the cult of celebrity, the pressure to be thin, having to wear the right clothes or make up. The consumerist culture plays on our natural desire to fit in. However this loss of innocence can be harmful to our young people. We need to let children be children.

 

Pornographic sites in particular are affecting young people's views on what is normal in a relationship. This can lead to boys seeing girls simply as sex objects and put pressure on girls to have sex earlier.

 

The effect on mental health of viewing dangerous sites has been well documented by our children’s charities. For example, there are increasing calls to ChildLine from young people who have stumbled across adult material. It is absolutely wrong that our children should be left feeling distraught and suicidal due to this needless pressure and stigma they are being subjected to.

 

Whilst many children are easily or inadvertently accessing internet pornography, this is by no means the only danger. Indeed many websites portray extreme violence; promote self-harm and anorexia; or contain materials concerning suicide. Computer manufacturers and Internet Service Providers have a responsibility to make accessing such materials as difficult as possible. The need for us to preserve childhood is a responsibility that we should all want to uphold.

 

I would like to see the default setting being that harmful sites are blocked for all computers – with adults having to opt-in for such material. However if people have to opt-out we need straightforward processes which are easy to understand.

 

Last year, a cross-party panel of MPs concluded that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and the Government need to do more to keep children safe online.

 

The Inquiry recommended that the Government should initiate a formal review of an Opt-In filter to access adult material on the internet.  The Government should press for accelerated implementation plans for "Active Choice"; the content filtering system proposed for new internet customers by the largest ISPs. Within 12 months, ISPs should roll out "single account" network filters that provide one-click filtering for all devices connected to the same internet account. A single regulator should take lead responsibility on internet safety. Public Wi-Fi networks should have a default adult-content bar. Government and industry should draw up new guidelines to publicise existing safety settings on computers and internet-enabled devices. Also ISPs should provide more support and signposting for internet safety education. It is time we put that advice into practice.

 

Let us urge the Government through this consultation to compel the ISPs, who make more than £3 billion a year from selling internet access services, to do what they can to protect our children. The misery and heartache caused to British families is immeasurable.

 

You can take part in the consultation by visiting - http://www.education.gov.uk/aboutdfe/departmentalinformation/consultations/a00211052/parental-internet-controls - please do take a couple of minutes to add your voice.

 

Of course it is wrong that our children are being inadvertently exposed to dangerous materials online, when it could all be stopped with one simple click. Let’s join together and send a message to our elected representatives in Parliament that we expect better.

 

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