Entertainment Television

Wednesday 17 September 2014

'We need to take the controls back from the electronic babysitter and ensure that we have full responsibility for whatever appears on screens in our own households'

Stella O'Malley

Published 06/07/2014 | 02:30

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TV3 initially submitted the complaint to ComReg against RTE in June 2008
TV3 initially submitted the complaint to ComReg against RTE in June 2008

It seems that today, context is everything, and our sensitivities towards what is and isn't acceptable can be slightly convoluted.

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Accusations of homophobia made by a drag queen had huge repercussions on the Saturday Night Show and yet the video game Grand Theft Auto was passed with an '18' sticker even though the players hit and even kill a prostitute.

This is why, with the arrival of screen addiction, cyber-bullying and 40-year-old predators pretending to be 14-year-old girls on social media, parents today have more complex issues to contend with than the relatively benign material seen on domestic channels after the 9pm watershed. Even though one in five youths have received unwanted sexual solicitations online, half of these children don't tell their parents – mostly because they are afraid that their online usage will then be limited.

This issue is further complicated because many parents know their teenagers can bypass any parental control they have tried to establish.

Consequently, many parents have fallen into a form of passive parenting, allowing new media to wield its magic spell and keep the children occupied – psychologists now estimate that by the time they turn seven, many children born today will have spent the equivalent of an entire year of their lives on screens.

A YouTube video shows us a one-year-old trying to swipe the page of a magazine as this was the only way she knew how to 'turn the page', and children as young as seven years old have been found to be actively searching for porn.

Jamie was an innocent little seven-year-old digital native who accidentally typed in the word 'cam' into his computer instead of 'camp' and a whole slew of graphic cam-videos appeared on the screen that Jamie found compelling and horrifying in his (soon to be lost) innocence.

A few days later, his mother checked the internet history and realised that her little boy had gone back on to the site, again and again, looking for porn at every opportunity in those unrestricted few days. Another young child, eight-year-old Chloe, thought she needed to learn some details about the facts of life, and, just like every child of her generation who seeks information, typed her questions into Google.

When graphic images of bestiality and rape popped up, Chloe at first didn't understand exactly what she was watching but, just like a car crash, she couldn't take her eyes away from the screen. She finally emerged from the sitting room half-an-hour later, whey-faced and a slightly different child.

We now know that, although sticks and stones may break our bones, if we're not careful, names can simply break us, and some people have turned to suicide in the wake of vicious online taunts from keyboard warriors. It is no longer acceptable for parents to simply allow the tidal wave of uncensored technology roll over them.

There is no watershed in the online world; in fact, it is so unrestricted that an unsuspecting child who types in 'toy' or 'pet' can be led to sex sites.

Parents who hope that the new draft code published this week by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland will keep our children safe from inappropriate material are probably either naïve or lazy.

We need to take the controls back from the electronic babysitter and ensure that we have full responsibility for whatever appears on screens in our own households.

And we should do it today.

Stella O'Malley is a psychotherapist

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