Headteachers in Cheshire have threatened to report parents to authorities if they allow their children to play games rated for over-18s.
In a letter sent out by the Nantwich Education Partnership group last month, parents from 16 schools in the country were warned that they could find themselves reported to local authorities for neglect, if they are found to be allowing their kids to play games which are deemed to be unsuitable. The heads claim that games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty contain levels of violence that are inappropriate for children.
They’ve also stated that children playing these games, or accessing certain social media sites, can increase early sexualized behaviour in youngsters, leaving them vulnerable to grooming for sexual exploitation.
Mary Hennessy Jones – the head who drafted the letter – stated that “We are trying to help parents to keep their children as safe as possible in this digital era. It is so easy for children to end up in the wrong place and parents find it helpful to have some very clear guidelines.”
In the United Kingdom, there is no law preventing a parent from letting a minor play a game which has an age restriction. Retailers can be prosecuted for selling such a game to a minor, but if an adult purchases it for them – such as a parent who feels their child can handle the content – then no law has been broken.
An announcement earlier this month from the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, warned teachers that adults in positions of responsibility could face jail sentences of up to 5 years for failing to report instances of neglect or abuse of children. The warning came following long-running revelations about the now-deceased UK television celebrity Jimmy Saville, who engaged in widespread acts of sexual abuse against children throughout his career – and was left unchallenged, despite many people in positions of authority suspecting his actions and having received complaints.
OPINION: Gaming has always acted as a scapegoat for many of the problems with society, yet it’s important to note that these accusations are almost never accompanied by any scientific evidence to support them. To state that playing such games leaves children vulnerable to grooming for sexual exploitation is an absurdly sweeping statement to make.
These Headteachers, while likely acting in good faith, are essentially bullying parents into following their guidelines as to what their children should be allowed to play or view – despite the law stating that it’s up to the parent to decide what media their child is allowed to consume. The letter also comes across as incredibly patronizing, and will do nothing to lower incidents of grooming.
Child sexual exploitation and abuse is a very real problem, but instances such as this will do nothing to combat it. The real danger is that by fostering a culture of fear, such as what this letter seeks to do, we risk scaring people into silence – rather than encouraging open discussion. And that could actually make the problem of child sex abuse worse in the long-term.