Children and Censorship

We have two different, but important questions here.

The first one is, do I as an individual believe in any Censorship? It is the answer to this which is pivotal to any discussion because often the responses to this provide a great deal of the answer to the question of children and censorship.

Personally I do not think that any human being other than myself has a right to decide what I should see or read or hear . Perhaps other community members might have a right to say I must read or watch or listen to such material in private so that it does not impinge on their rights not to see or hear it. I respect this opinion.

Having been alive when books such as “Lolita” and “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” were not allowed into the country and had to be smuggled in even by academics studying literature, where films showing two people in a double bed had to have one foot on the floor, I think censorship can be dangerous even in a democratic country. Wheresoever the political masters have any control of the way people think we cannot be said to be free. And it can lead to a society where we do not have freedom because we do not know of the alternatives.

But the other reason is because I am conceited enough to think I am smart enough to make my own decisions and better than some others can. This can lead into dangerous waters. If I think that I can make these decisions a lot better than some other adults, should I be the one to decide for them?

Of course not. Every adult who is capable under the law of looking after themselves must have a right to consume what information they wish.

Now we get into murky water where children are concerned.

How much and to what age are we to make these sort of moral decisions on their behalf? And should this be individual parents or society as a whole.

As a one time teacher, as a parent and as a child psychologist, I have grappled with this issue for many years. I have known children under twelve who could make better choices than some adults. I have known many teenagers who in other times and other cultures would be making decisions on behalf of others and who already make very complicated decisions in their lives or the workplace.

We already have a lot of control over our own children. I have heard and have some sympathy with the argument that we should not have private schools in this country. One basis for their support is that it provides a freedom of choice for the children. But it is not a choice of the children but is more like one type of censorship for children by their parents. It is a separation of them from wider society and thus the parents making decisions for the child on issues such as religion and lifestyle. It does not allow them to experience a more general view of society, just one the parents have selected.

All parents select a great deal in the nature of the exposure their children have to the world. In the early years this is inevitable. And as they grow older most get more exposure through peer group, sports, other interests and books and the media. In case they are fearful we tend to guard them from stories of incidents, including natural disasters, which might scare them. But as they grow older we realise they need to be ever more, but gently, exposed to what is reality.

Should we do this using guidelines? Every child is very different. Can we guard them against danger when they do not know what danger is?

The three things I personally think I would wish to protect children from would be violence, religious exploitation and unwanted and/or unnatural sexual exploitation.

How can we protect them from these by their not knowing about them? We cannot. And once they have been exposed to these concepts by our answering their questions at the level of their understanding (as we do for most learning), once they have been exposed to our particular views and some alternative ones, and once they demonstrate some understanding of the concepts, do we still have a right to any censorship?

Do we not allow them to investigate on their own as they do other areas of life?

Morally, if we do not believe in censorship, I do not think we can impose it on children.


About Anne Powles

I am retired from paid employment. During my working life I have been variously and sometimes contemporaneously, wife, mother of four, lawyer, teacher and psychologist. I have also been a serial education junkie. As are we all, I have been an observer of the world around me. Here I have recorded some of my memories, observations and theorisings.
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