Protect teenagers from smartphone porn, Bishop of Chelmsford urges

17 November 2017

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THE availability of pornography on young people’s smartphones should be a “huge moral concern”, the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, told the House of Lords this week.

After describing how he had looked at pornographic magazines as a 15-year-old, he warned that “those images, and so much more, and so much worse besides are available in the pocket of every 15-year-old boy.”

He spoke of “extremely disturbing evidence” that “persistent and pervasive viewing of pornography can lead to acceptance of all sorts of violence and unhealthy notions about sex and relationships, and [to] men having extremely warped and degrading attitudes to women”. While the digital age could be one of “cultural, intellectual, and even moral prosperity”, there was a need for “a commitment to child-centred design, protecting them from danger and harm while enabling them not just to be safe but to thrive online”.

He was speaking during a debate on a report published by the Communications Committee — of which he is a member — Growing Up With the Internet. It had become clear to him that internet companies must be taken to task, he said. “The technology is there, but they will not use it unless pressed.” Lord Best, who chaired the committee, referred to “pervasive uneasiness” that companies might not take enough action without “more strenuous government intervention”.

The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, warned that young people were finding their identity through social-media and internet advertising, “which has resulted in low self-esteem and poor mental health”. It gave teenage girls the idea that “life is all about perfect sunsets, classically beautiful bodies, and constant smiling”.

Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen, a Whip in the House of Lords, welcomed the report and outlined a number of actions by the Government, which is currently consulting on a Green Paper on internet safety. They include work to ensure that online safety is taught in both primary and secondary schools.

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