CAROLINE ANSELL MP: Digital Bill must protect our youngsters

Caroline Ansell, MP for Eastbourne SUS-160604-141512001

Caroline Ansell, MP for Eastbourne SUS-160604-141512001

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Potentially just as harmful as drugs and alcohol is how the impact of internet porn on our children and young people has been described.

All studies show younger and younger children are accessing hardcore pornography and it’s warping their perception of sex and loving relationships, while teaching them consideration for others is not necessary.

Other studies show young girls feel under great pressure to act out what they and their boyfriends have seen online, and this cannot be right for anyone so young.

Now this is a not a moral outrage piece and I hope I’m a realist but I think more can be done on a number of fronts to try and restrict access and teach children that porn is a construct, a fantasy that does not reflect normal sexual relationships.

Firstly, I’m very pleased the Digital Economy Bill which was heard this week in Parliament will look to impose age verification duties on porn websites to ensure those under 18 cannot view the content.

It’s certainly not a cure-all, but it will help force websites to at least address the issue of those underage accessing hardcore material, and it will stop some from gaining access so easily.

The second area is for us parents.

My generation, born in the 70s and 80s in a time of Walkmans and CB Radios, are at risk of being very quickly superseded by our children, who are often more comfortable with a mouse than a pen.

Do we know what they’re experiencing online?

Schools, I know, have reached out to parents but take-up tends to be by those already best informed and best placed to support their children.

This is where the Centre for Social Justice’s proposal to enhance Children’s Centres, which cover 0-5s, recreating them as ‘Family Hubs’ could play a part because parenting is life-long and the teenage years can be just as challenging, and far more complex to navigate, than the early years.

With the exponential rise in the number of children and young people suffering in their mental health, it is especially relevant.

Children too need to understand that pornography is not real life and we need more focus and resources should be put on what loving relationships are to counteract this.

Finally, the website and tech companies that allow this material to be disseminated must do more to stop children seeing it and being harmed by it.

The health secretary Jeremy Hunt said, while giving evidence about suicide prevention this week, that children should be blocked from sending sex images or intimidating content on social media and that these companies are smart enough to do it, if they want to.

It’s my firm view that these firms, that make billions, should actually be forced to.