In an age when most youngsters have their own computers, smartphones or tablets, the Rt. Rev. Dr. John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, has added his voice to the growing number of citizens concerned about protecting young people from harmful material on the internet, including online pornography.
Sentamu aired his concerns in a statement published on the diocese of York’s website and in Sept. 4’s Daily Mail.
“On Sept. 6, the U.K. government’s consultation into parental internet controls will officially close [to further submissions],” the archbishop wrote. “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.”
Sentamu, considered a top contender for the position of Archbishop of Canterbury, stressed the importance of establishing a safe and controlled environment in which children can access the wealth of information offered by this useful tool. He noted that 99 per cent of young people ages seven to 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.” The potential for harmful exposure comes when the isolated, unsupervised young users hit upon material meant for adults. “…91 per cent of this age group access the internet at home, and 66 per cent do so in their own rooms with no parental supervision,” the archbishop wrote.
Sentamu pointed to the need for better filtering systems. “Currently it is up to parents to opt in to packages that will block inappropriate content. Many do not, for a variety of reasons, and it is clear we need to make this process simpler,” he wrote. “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.”
He noted that society is promoting the loss of innocence through increased sexualization in material on TV and in films, music and magazines. “We can see it in the cult of celebrity, the pressure to be thin, having to wear the right clothes or makeup,” Sentamu wrote. “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.”
He said that 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 putting pressure on girls to have sex earlier.”
Sentamu referred to the well-documented effects on children’s mental health of viewing dangerous sites. “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.”
Many websites, he wrote, 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.”
Sentamu would like to see default settings that automatically block harmful sites on all computers, with adults having to deliberately opt in to access such material. “Let us urge the government to compel internet service providers, who make more than £3 billion a year from selling internet access services, to do what they can to protect our children…it is wrong that our children are being inadvertently exposed to dangerous materials online, when it could all be stopped with one simple click,” Sentamu wrote.