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Chief Censor: Let's look at the issues

Posted on 10 July 2017 by Chief Censor David Shanks

After fewer than two months in the role as Chief Censor, I have had the privilege of launching the final report my office has produced on the impacts on young people of viewing sexual violence on screen.

I was hugely proud to be able to present this work and to talk about it on a national stage. It is important. It is relevant. And it explores issues that touch so many of us, but are often left in the too hard basket.

In this research we not only gave young people themselves a voice, we also learned from our previous studies involving young people. Our approach this time around gave us a really rich, genuine engagement with teens from all sorts of backgrounds. Look out for a follow up blog soon, where one of our interviewers will provide his personal perspective.

We have gained a lot of insight on how best to work with young people in this context, and we would welcome any approach by other agencies or groups looking to do work of this kind.

The fact that young people have told us that they are viewing all kinds of sexual violence, in all kinds of contexts, across a whole range of media and devices, is interesting but not that surprising. This is the world we live in today.

More surprising perhaps are our findings that young people are generally not discussing the material they are viewing and absorbing. They seldom discuss it with each other, and almost never with responsible adults or parents. Yet when our research participants were given the opportunity to discuss the issues in this study – haltingly at first, grasping for terminology or reference points that they hadn’t used before – they felt better for it. Most of them told us they enjoyed participating in the project, and felt more empowered and in a better place to think critically about this stuff.

As a parent myself, I know how common it is to worry about our children’s use of devices and screens, what they are consuming and how it might be affecting them. I also know that we, as parents, are constantly bombarded with messages on things we should be doing, should be worried about, or should be preventing our children from doing.

We want to provide solutions rather than just point out problems. The Classification Office will develop simple and practical tools and advice for parents and young people in this area. For now, our advice to parents is to look at the issues – that is, find out what things your teen is watching that may raise issues of sexual violence. Take a look at the material yourself - not necessarily with them, but at least around the same time or even ahead of when they see it. And then talk to them about it - how it made them feel, the issues it raised for them. Add your perspective as an adult and a loving parent. 

Our research shows your children will find it hard to put their feelings into words. You might not find it the easiest, either! But ultimately your children will appreciate your guidance. Because without that, they are just soaking up this material, without anything in the way of a balanced, adult perspective. 

We can do better than that.

David Shanks is New Zealand's Chief Censor at the Office of Film and Literature Classification.

Chief Censor David Shanks
Chief Censor David Shanks

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