opinion

Parental Involvement is Key to Child Protection

Tim Henning

The Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection (ASACP) is calling for more thoughtful solutions to the problem of preventing minors from accessing legal adult entertainment websites, following recent actions taken by the U.K. that will require registration at the ISP level to view porn online — actions being eyed across the EU and elsewhere.

As many already know, following a period of widespread anticipation, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, delivered a speech outlining his plans to crack down on online pornography, to “make the Internet safer for children.”

A better set of solutions includes educating parents on the dangers that exist to young children and adolescents online as well as the tools at their disposal.

Cameron said that there are two very distinct and very different challenges to dealing with the issue of children and their access to (or involvement in) unsuitable online content.

“The first challenge is criminal: and that is the proliferation and accessibility of child abuse images on the Internet,” Cameron explained. “The second challenge is cultural: the fact that many children are viewing online pornography and other damaging material at a very young age and that the nature of that pornography is so extreme, it is distorting their view of sex and relationships.”

ASACP has addressed both of these valid concerns since the earliest days of adult oriented websites being available on the Internet and has developed solutions — including the ASACP suspected child pornography reporting hotline and the award winning RTA (Restricted To Adults) website metadata label — that are far less intrusive into the private lives of average consumers, while being more respectful of their rights, than is the means by which Cameron hopes to achieve his goals; including a rigid opt-in program that will force families to accept or reject adult services at the carrier level — with a default “no.”

It is the Cameron government’s contention that only a small percentage of UK parents enable parental filters and monitor what their children are doing online and an even smaller percentage are having conversations with their adolescent children regarding their online activities. Rather than step up efforts designed to educate parents on the many filtering and monitoring options available to them and the realities of allowing children unfettered access to the internet — they have decided to take matters into their own hands.

These measures will not only hurt legitimate Internet content providers, but place added strains on marriages and other relationships, when the safe outlet of online sex is removed — or is maintained at the cost of damaged emotions when the “yes” box is clicked.

What is even more troubling is the fact that this could very well harm a crucial aspect of protecting children online — parental involvement. When a government steps in and effectively assumes the role of the parent by filtering the internet for them there is a great danger it will promote a false sense of security for those parents and close lines of communication between the parent and the child even more. If the parent believes that the child is safe because of ISP level filtering they will be even less likely to pay attention to what that child is doing online.

There are many dangers that exist for children and adolescents online that filtering will not address — online bullying, cyber—stalking, sexting, social networks — just to name a few. It also must be considered that filtering technology alone is not perfect, nor is it broad enough to adequately protect children online. Further, the reality is that tech savvy adolescents will still find ways to access age-inappropriate content. There is a great deal of age-inappropriate content that exists online outside of the traditional website space that current filtering technology will not be able to address including file lockers, Usenet, peer to peer networks — and more. The bottom line is that those tech savvy adolescent children that want to access age-inappropriate content will still be able to do so.

A better set of solutions includes educating parents on the dangers that exist to young children and adolescents online as well as the tools at their disposal, including parental filtering and monitoring technologies that will assist the parent in protecting their children. Parents must also maintain an open line of communication with their children regarding their online activities. Hand in hand, providers of legitimate adult entertainment content must also do their part by using the ASACP developed Restricted To Adults (RTA) website metadata label, which works with current website filtering tools to prevent legitimate adult entertainment content from finding its way into households where it is not welcome.

ASACP’s Director of European Outreach, Vince Charlton, has been closely monitoring this scene as well as taking part in high level meetings with other stakeholders in order to voice both the concerns of the industry and ASACP.

“Whilst I can understand the reasoning behind wanting a clamp down on the ease in which minors can access free hardcore pornography on the web, the way this mandatory filtering has been structured is fraught with problems,” Charlton stated. “Any family who wants to watch 18+ material will still opt-in to do so which will leave them in the same position as they are in now where they will have the option to install parental controls which have been on the market since the Internet began.”

“All the U.K. government seems to be achieving is shifting the responsibility away from parents,” Charlton added. “So in future when the issue of minors accessing porn still exists, they can hold their heads up high and say that it was the parent’s active choice and that the government of the day had fulfilled its responsibilities.”

ASACP hopes that as other stakeholders explore ways in which minors can be prevented from accessing age-inappropriate materials, that existing solutions such as RTA will be considered, rather than mandating protocols that could very well have a negative impact on online child protection as well as harming rights and relationships without addressing the key role of parents and technology in the process.

For more information on how you can help, please visit the ASACP website (www.asacp.org) or email tim@asacp.org or vince@asacp.org — and thank you for your support!

ABOUT ASACP

Founded in 1996, ASACP is a non-profit organization dedicated to online child protection. ASACP is comprised of two separate corporate entities, the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection and the ASACP Foundation. The Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection (ASACP) is a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization. ASACP manages a membership program that provides resources to companies in order to help them protect children online. The ASACP Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. The ASACP Foundation battles child pornography through its CP Reporting Hotline and helps parents prevent children from viewing age-restricted material online with its Restricted To Adults (RTA) website label (www.rtalabel.org). ASACP has invested nearly 17 years in developing progressive programs to protect children, and its relationship in assisting the adult industry’s child protection efforts is unparalleled. For more information, visit www.asacp.org

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