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Dear David: 'If a library made porn available to kids we'd be up in arms, but we say nothing about it on the internet'

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The Department of Education and Skills will shortly publish its Digital Strategy for Schools

The Department of Education and Skills will shortly publish its Digital Strategy for Schools

Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Department of Education and Skills will shortly publish its Digital Strategy for Schools

Clinical psychologist David Coleman addresses your parenting queries.

Question: My daughter's primary school wrote to all parents about 'incidents' that have taken place due to the use of smartphones. You can imagine the 'incidents'. I really worry about children, the internet and social media. Isn't childhood hard enough to navigate without giving our kids extra tools to bully each other or be bullied? Not to mention porn! If your library decided to get a stock of porn in, and shelve it so that a child could randomly come across it, we'd be up in arms, but why are we so mindless about its availability on the internet?

DAVID: I don't often get asked speculative or abstract questions in this forum. Mostly people have a problem and want a solution. But your questioning of our passivity about the internet and its potential impact on our children struck a chord with me.

The questions you raise about how we have let the internet and social media creep into our families' lives are very relevant, and rarely voiced. Typically, parents seem to assume the internet is a good thing or they tend to stick their head in the sand about its dangers, hoping their child won't be harmed online.

Smartphones can cause big problems in primary school. It would take pressure off us all if schools and parents could combine to create a culture where no parents gave smartphones to their pre-teenage children.

Children don't need mobile phones and they certainly don't need smartphones. They may want them, but they don't need them.

Most parents I speak to bemoan the fact they are 'pressured' into buying their younger child, maybe age 10 or 11, a phone. They worry about their child's use of this technology and worry their child will become addicted to having their phone at all times.

Parents are right to worry about these things. But yet, most parents don't seem to have the backbone to say: "No, you may not have a phone."

I do wonder, sometimes, if parents nowadays feel they have any power at all in their relationships with their children?

I also wonder about the values we hold as parents. Do we really believe in anything anymore? Because, I think you are right in as much as the way we have allowed the internet to perniciously invade our lives, without challenge, suggests we just don't care.

Or if we do care, we don't seem to care enough to make a big fuss.

The analogy that you use about how we might react to pornography being easily accessible in a local library is valid.

I think most parents would be shocked and disgusted if their 11-year-old son or daughter could easily pick up a magazine filled with explicit images of sex.

I could imagine protests and blockades outside any such library, given how outraged and affronted people would feel about such careless and easy availability of pornography to young children.

But there are no protests about the internet and the manner in which extreme, violent and debasing sex is routinely accessible to anyone.

People might comment it is shocking, but what do any of us do about it?

We seem to have passively ignored the fact that giving children unfettered access to a smartphone, a tablet or a laptop opens up so many aspects of our world to them. A lot of what they see or hear online may really challenge our values and our beliefs, and be overwhelming for them.

But do we really engage with our children to contextualise what they encounter online? Do we challenge, define or explain the images, opinions or actions of the huge diversity of people they are being influenced by?

It does seem like an impossible task to 'hold back' the internet. So rather than trying to drain the ocean of the internet we may have little choice but to teach our children to swim safely in it.

Blindly giving them free reign to engage online in social media or to surf the web unsupervised seems to me the equivalent of dropping them overboard and hoping they have the skills to survive.

I think we need to be a bit more proactive than that.

Online Editors


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