Do we need an outright ban on pornography?

Peter Crory 2So lots happening just now on the pornography front. Sad though it is that these things often only get kick-started by government after a tragedy yet this must be music to the ears of most parents at least….certainly to mine!

Seems that the government have got the big internet companies to agree to support a closer watch on child pornography and Google have made a moderate commitment to identify and remove illegal content.

So are we all now on the same level? Do we all agree that pornography is bad and should be banned?

No, far from it and to be honest that’s probably not the best end result anyway. Why?….well it’s complicated!

Firstly it’s a massive issue…

According to some estimates, 30% of all internet bandwidth is used to transfer porn. Each month, porn sites get more visitors than Amazon, Twitter and Netflix combined amounting to some 450 million different hits.

Secondly it is pretty obvious that serious porn is available and accessible free of charge so very easily today on the computer and on the phone bringing it into the world of our children and young people. Sexting is also becoming a real concern among kids as early as late primary school.

Thirdly the research evidence does not show clearly that porn is bad, in fact certain studies seem to say that use of pornography can reduce the likelihood of people with certain tendencies from committing sexually violent acts.

So how do we even think about this?

 It is not healthy for our kids!

As a children’s and young people’s organisation the first thing we’ve got to say is that whether it’s the sex industry or the April Jones story or the struggle of lust faced by so many young men, pornography simply isn’t something that is adding value to young people’s lives, in fact it seems that it contributes to the opposite. If something reduces the potential in a young life and beckons addiction….we will fight it!

How do we act if we can’t totally prove it?

It’s important that we listen and acknowledge other voices of reason that present evidence against banning pornography. Yet it is also important that we decide what we wish as the values and morals in our society and what we accept as reasonable influences on our children as they grow up into adults. Regardless of the evidence there is something valid here about the Scotland we wish to shape for our children. There are also some very strong research pieces out there…see this post from the Observer in June 2013.
“Two weeks ago, the children’s commissioner for England, an independent body that has been carrying out an in-depth two-year inquiry into the exploitation of children by gangs and groups, published a report summarising the current research on porn.

Sue Berelowitz, the deputy commissioner, tells me that it was because porn kept on coming up in the evidence they were hearing.

“We identified a lot of young people who were doing things that it’s difficult to imagine they had dreamed up unless they had seen it somewhere. We had an 11-year-old girl who was raped by 10, 14- 15-year-old boys, for example, and one of them said in his witness statement to the police that it was like being in a porn film.”

The 40,000 research papers analysed by the report found “a correlation” between the viewing of pornographic material and those who carry out those violent acts.

“It’s also clear that children’s attitudes to sex and sexuality are being affected, sometimes at a very young age. This material is just a few clicks away. There might be parental controls on the computer at home, but it’s right there on their phones. And it’s affecting them. We’re seeing that.”

Even beyond the evidence we can make our judgements from the stories we hear from our children, from their use of phone technology and from the creeping ‘normalisation’ of the content of lads magazines on our  newsagents bottom shelves. It is very important that just because something is not proved 100% we do not sit back and do nothing!

Is it a ban we want?

No, because in our society we do need to allow room for individuals to make their own choices if they don’t affect others and even if some of those choices seem unhealthy to the rest of us.

However we do want to open a more honest debate and understanding about the proliferation and accessibility of porn on our internet and phones particularly on behalf of our children and young people. We need to further explore the early indicators that can lead to aggression and violence and their association with the use of porn.

We want parents to take greater responsibility and just a little time to monitor what their children watch and access on the computer and on their phone.

We want men, caught up in a private battle of addiction to pornography, to feel able to share the problem with another, to seek help and to work to free themselves from this hold.

We want our boys, who already so often lack those positive male role models in their lives, to develop a healthy respect for women and to avoid seeing them as sex objects.  All young people though need positive role models in and out of their family.

But above all each of us needs to decide whether we want a Scotland that reflects a set of values and morals that can shape and forge young people who we will be proud of, with integrity, respect for others and a healthy understanding of what’s right and wrong.

In the light of the values that we wish to see in Scottish society how then do we feel about the invasive nature of the porn industry? How then do we judge what we want our children exposed to?

Part of this journey for us parents is the need for our generation to raise our own awareness of how immediate access to porn can be for our children.

Let’s shape our kids future here in Scotland on the basis of a set of values and morals that we choose rather than letting a greedy global industry invade our technology and impose their version on us!

Peter Crory, Chief Executive, YMCA Scotland

Sources and links:

http://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/content/press_release/content_505

What’s in an age?

Sara Collier, Policy Officer, Children in Scotland

Sara Collier, Policy Officer for Children in Scotland

Sara Collier, Policy Officer for Children in Scotland

What age do you think you stop being a child and start being an adult? It might seem like a silly question, and of course everyone matures at different rates, but in the eyes of the law there are big differences in the age you are regarded as old enough to take control of and responsibility for your own choices and behaviours.

Age 16 is an obvious place to start – you can get married, leave home and leave school. You can buy lottery tickets, get a fulltime job (including joining the armed forces) and start to pay national insurance on your earnings. 16 is also the age you can consent to legal sexual intercourse – but you can’t yet buy an 18 certificate film…

One year later, at 17, you can get your car driving licence (or private pilots licence if you like!) and give blood. Then when you’re 18 you’re legally able to do other things like buy alcohol, vote for and stand in most elections, serve on a jury, get a tattoo, buy fireworks, apply for a credit card, and buy cigarettes.

So at 18 you are a fully fledged adult right? Wrong. You have to be 21 before you are paid the highest rate of the national minimum wage, adopt a child, and you can’t supervise a learner driver until you are this age (and have held a licence for at least 3 years yourself).

So it’s far from a simple question – you can legally be treated like an adult at different ages depending on the circumstances. 16 and 17 year olds will be able to vote in the independence referendum next year, but not in other elections (yet). Different countries also have very different laws about restrictions on ‘adult’ activity. For example in the USA some states allow you start learning to drive at age 14, but the legal age to purchase alcohol is 21. The minimum age of consent in Mexico is 12 and it is 21 in Bahrain.

So why does this matter?

Having lots of different ages can make things confusing and raise lots of questions like “why am I old enough to join the army but not old enough to vote ?” or “why am I old enough to get married but not buy a pint?” It can be a drain on finances too – when there is no universal age at which you stop being a child and become and adult, companies may interpret ‘adult’ in different ways, when to be charged full ticket prices for shows and the cinema for example.

Some of these questions are put down to oddities in the letter of the law, but sometimes they can have more serious consequences. For one, when young people are caught in between ‘child’ and ‘adult’ service they can often receive poorer treatment – for example in hospital or from other services like mental health – because they don’t fit well into either category.

Children in Scotland and other children’s organisations recently raised the issue of the age of criminal responsibility with the Scottish Government. At the moment the age at which you can be held criminally responsible for your actions in Scotland is 8, an age at which few people would regard you an ‘adult’. Scotland has one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in the world, lower than Belgium (18), Brazil (18), France (16), Russia (16), Sweden (15), England (12) and Iraq (9). In most EU countries the minimum age is at least 12 and Scotland has been criticised for our low age by the UN committee set up to monitor compliance with children’s rights.

The age of criminal prosecution is age 12 – and of course younger people who commit offences are usually referred to the Children’s Hearing System, rather than to a court. However, this very young age of responsibility and labelling children as young as 8 as criminals is concerning – as is a recent newspaper story about children aged between 12 and 15 being held in police cells overnight.

One final example – the age at which you can buy cigarettes in Scotland was raised from 16 to 18 in 2007. A Liberal Democrat MSP is currently consulting on plans for a Bill in the Scottish Parliament to protect children and young people by banning smoking in cars carrying a person under the age of 16. Explaining his decision for setting the age at 16, Jim Hume said “a 16 year old is considered to be of an age to make an informed choice and that is why I believe it represents a natural age from which to stop considering a person a child for the purposes of my proposals”.

What do you think? Do the ages set for adulthood make sense or would you like to see changes?

Jim Hume’s consultation, including the issue of age, is open until 30 August and can be found on the Scottish Parliament website, under the Members Bill section – http://www.scottish.parliament.uk

When it comes to the Games, we need to up ours

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Alison Johnstone, Scottish Green MSP for the Lothians and the party’s spokesperson on sport. A former competitive athlete, Alison is also a qualified athletics coach

A year from now the world’s eyes will be on Scotland thanks to the Commonwealth Games. And right now, long before the first starting pistol is fired, I believe we need to up our game in Scotland if we are serious about making sport a normal part of our young people’s lives. Glasgow 2014 is a golden opportunity to make competitive sport and active lifestyles affordable and accessible. Inspirational role models and medals will encourage young people to get involved. A meaningful legacy means that we’ll have the coaches and facilities in place to make this a reality.

I believe it is important that we give children every opportunity to try out a wide variety of sports, whether that is free running, BMX or badminton. It might be a recognised Olympic sport or it might be something away from the mainstream. I want the Scottish Government to ask young people what they would like to see in its youth sport strategy and what the barriers and incentives are. The cost to families is certainly amongst these barriers.

Accessing an athletics track and buying some running spikes can seem beyond many people’s incomes so let’s look at reducing that cost. My local club has a second-hand policy where people hand in kit they’ve grown out of and it’s sold at a reduced price. 

I also worry that we are still relying almost entirely on volunteers to help our young people into sport. Recently Edinburgh hosted its traditional annual inter-scholastics, but not every school in the city had a team. Could this be because schools are relying on one person who is unavailable on that day? Local schools, local authorities and governing bodies can strengthen club-schools links and work towards ensuring that all schools have an opportunity to compete. Employer support and an expenses scheme for those who need financial assistance in order to volunteer could have a particularly beneficial impact. Gaining coaching qualifications takes time and cash and we must look positively at supporting those who wish to help our young people.

High school is the point at which PE traditionally loses young people, particularly young women. I would like there to be a focus on having much more time than the current target of two hours a week, or two periods in high school and a specific approach to engaging young women.

Of course there are well documented health benefits to spending on sport. As highlighted recently childhood obesity is a growing problem, yet we see falling rates of youth participation in sport. Investing in youth sport could help us address this crisis. To boost participation rates we must help young people find the sport that is right for them. If they’re passionate about it, it is more likely that they will exercise.

Involvement in sport also encourages social interaction. Young people spend time developing relationships with team mates. They might meet people from different schools, different workplaces and different areas – people they might not come across otherwise. Young people learn to work together.

Sport also helps young people to de-stress. They can forget about school and the pressure of exams and they become mindful of what they are doing in the moment. If someone is learning the high jump, for example, they cannot be thinking about their homework or the other pressures in their life. That is healthy for our young people. Their self-esteem develops, too, through encouragement of and praise for their efforts. Whether they are experts or not, they learn that, if they strive, they can improve. That empowers them and develops a positive, healthy attitude.

Swimming, a sport in which Scotland excels, is a life skill yet fewer than half of 8-15 year olds swim on a regular basis. We rely on volunteers to teach our young people how to cycle safely on our roads. The Curriculum for Excellence seems tailor made to embed these important habits and skills. Investment in both of these areas would pay dividends economically, socially and in health terms.

Scotland is famed as a nation of sports fans but often it is armchair enthusiasm. It’s time to make the move from spectating to participating. 

 

The Journey Towards Body Confidence

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Leyah Shanks, campaigner for body confidence

I understand how it feels to be lacking in self-esteem. I understand how it feels to have no body confidence. I understand that many young girls and women still feel this way. I can’t understand why.

I’m 20 years old – a young person today – but, in terms of my own body confidence journey, I’ve come a long way. When I was younger, I had absolutely no body confidence. I had no confidence in general. Why? I guess there’s a few answers to that question. My being bullied throughout school would undoubtedly be a contributor, as would the totally overwhelming bombardment of ‘perfect’ women in the media. I loved reading magazines when I was in my early teens. What I didn’t love was seeing: ‘’perfect girl with this’’, after ‘’perfect girl with that’’, after ‘‘perfect girl with everything I don’t have’’. I remember thinking; ‘’How come her teeth are so white when mine aren’t? How come her eyes are so bright when mine aren’t? How is she so tall AND skinny?’’

Of course, at the age of 12/13, I wasn’t aware of Photoshop. I wasn’t aware that these women had been in hair and make-up for hours prior to being photographed. I wasn’t aware that many models actually harbour anorexic tendencies in order to maintain their highly sought after size zero look. Eventually, because every woman I saw in every magazine, on the TV and even in Disney films looked like a direct relative of Cleopatra, I began to feel that because I didn’t look this way, I was worthless. There was no portrayal of my body type – only exceedingly tall and thin. I felt this uncontrollable need to be like these women who graced the cover of Vogue and the catwalks of Milan. I hated my face so much that I would go through a pot of foundation and mascara a week, sometimes more. I would sleep in my make-up. Not even my dog would be allowed to see me without my slap on. Still not perfect enough, I desperately wanted to be thin. Thankfully I have a family who would personally make me finish every last mouthful of every last meal. I’m very lucky in that respect. I was also lucky in that I wasn’t one of the victims of the ever increasing problem of bulimia and anorexia which many believe is linked with body image in the media. Compared to the girls who have lost their lives to this, I got off lightly.

My family (my mother in particular) were never part of the problem with my body confidence issues. I remember on several occasions my mother telling me she wished she had a figure like mine. But that, although it is such a compliment, could not block out the utterly blinding assault of this representation of ‘the perfect woman’. Who I would see at least several times a day. She took over my brain. ‘I must look like this. I must look like this. I must look like this.’

Beyonce was my turning point. For my 16th birthday, my mother took me to see her live. I had never seen a ‘curvy’ woman with such confidence. She commanded the stage as though it was her slave and nobody would dare question her. Witnessing this – a woman who was NOT over 6’0 and was just over the average height of 5’4 – who was NOT stick thin and was NOT about to change for anyone. She had a body more like mine. And she was embracing it in front of thousands of people. After that night, my whole perception of myself changed. For the better. And I have never looked back. Bodies come in many shapes and sizes. It’s not about stigmatising a particular size, shape or weight – it’s about realising that all bodies are different and that that is a pretty amazing thing. In the media we need to see more than the one same body type represented and appreciated. If we all looked like the photoshopped-so-much-you-would-barely-recognise-the-person-in-real-life-models I used to adore, life would be so boring.

But the vicious onslaught of this ‘perfect woman’ continues. I have an 11 year old cousin and the thought of her feeling the way I did petrifies me. Admittedly, the situation, I would say, is not as bad as it was when I was her age. There is more emphasis on ‘plus size models’ (who are actually just the same size as the national average) and more emphasis on the wide variety of body shapes. I recently stumbled upon a body confidence campaign called Body Gossip which I really wish I had found sooner. They promote ‘the spectrum of beauty’ and teach body confidence in schools. I think if this was being mandatorily taught in schools – around the world – not just in the UK – to BOTH sexes – it would see a significant drop in the cases of anorexia and bulimia. Young people today NEED more projects like this and more role models who advocate body confidence. Not just body confidence for the ‘curvy’ percentage of the population – but for the apple shaped – the pear shaped – the hour glassed shaped – the straight-up-and-down shaped – the slender – the smaller – the taller – the big-boobed – the not so big-boobed – the wide hipped – the not so wide hipped – those with thigh gaps – those without thigh gaps – and everything else in between.

It therefore made me very happy to take part in Body Gossip’s BodyLove flash mob at the end of June. They were ‘’gathering groups of people from all over the UK taking a stand against body insecurity, proudly declaring that we are all unique as individuals.  Everyone who took part received a Body Gossip love heart on which they wrote their favorite body part and tweeted it to BG with the hashtag ‘’#BodyLove’’. I cannot praise this BRILLIANT idea enough – engaging people across the country to help banish body shame and promote body love and positivity. I think the nature of the idea; which relies a lot on social media, will see a lot of young people become aware of the event and take part. In turn, this may help to promote Body Gossip’s ‘’Gossip School’’ and see more young people benefitting from their body confidence and self-esteem classes.

If I had such a class when I was at school, I think I would have felt a lot better about myself. My hope is that soon, body confidence will be taught in all schools in the UK.