Children’s Commissioner for England: Parents should “talk early, and often” to children about online dangers

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Last Updated on 5th January 2022

Ataul Fatir Tahir, Al Hakam

The Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza urged parents to “talk early, and often” to their children in an age-appropriate way, so they are better prepared for the risks of online spaces and find it easier to raise issues when growing up. 

“‘The things I wish my parents had known…’ document from the Children’s Commissioner draws together advice from 16-21-year-olds on how parents should manage tricky conversations around sexual harassment and access to inappropriate content, including pornography. […] 

“An overriding message is that parents should start these challenging conversations early. Our focus groups suggest broaching topics before a child is given a phone or a social media account, which is around the age of 9 or 10.” (www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/2021/12/16/the-things-i-wish-my-parents-had-known-young-peoples-advice-on-talking-to-your-child-about-online-sexual-harassment/)

A few weeks ago, Hazrat Khalifatul Masihaa gave similar advice to Ahmadi parents and said they should address the questions of their children about social ills in detail – even if sexual in nature – when they reached a certain age. This advice from Huzooraa has not been limited to recent months and weeks, but dates back many years. 

The Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza said:

“[…] You might be surprised how early our young people felt parents need to start the conversation. But kids want an age-appropriate conversation that evolves over time in line with their growing maturity.

“My advice to parents and carers is to create the culture before the crisis.” 

She said, “Children have told us they want their mums and dads to create a safe, judgment-free space for them to talk about these issues. It’s better to do that before you hit a problem rather than trying to create that mood while you’re dealing with one.”

Worryingly, only a quarter of parents thought their child viewed pornography online, “but in reality more than half of 11- to 13-year-olds have already seen porn, many came across it by accident and 62% say their viewing of porn is mostly unintentional”, de Souza added. (www.theguardian.com/society/2021/dec/16/parents-urged-talk-children-young-as-nine-online-porn)

The commissioner voiced the struggles of parents, saying, “Parents tell me they sometimes feel uncomfortable, not just because of the sexualised nature of the topic, but also because their children know more about technology than they do.

“For mums, dads and carers who grew up without smartphones, this whole world can feel bewildering. But children want to talk to their parents and carers about this. We know this because they’ve told us. And that’s what is at the heart of this guidance.”

However, she encouraged parents by saying, “Things that might feel uncomfortable to begin with, will feel less so over time. Parents and carers need to grasp the nettle as they support their children navigating this complex part of growing up. Our children have told us it’s what they want.” 

For years, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa has been urging Ahmadi parents to “befriend their children” and to “answer their questions” from a young age. He has emphasised that parents should be tolerant towards their children and create a peaceful and friendly environment at home where their children could share anything with them.

In a recent virtual meeting with Arab Ahmadis from Canada, Huzooraa said Ahmadi parents should at least acknowledge the existence of social ills – even if sexual – if their children asked about them at tender ages like six or eight years old, and when they reached the ages of “10 or 11”, these matters should be discussed with them in light of Islamic teachings. (Al Hakam, 17 December 2021, p. 3, www.alhakam.org/arab-ahmadis-in-canada-meet-hazrat-khalifatul-masih/)

In the same meeting, Huzooraa said parents should acquaint themselves with the modern environment and learn about social ills and what children could go through. For example, Ahmadi parents should not shun children if they ask about homosexuality; rather, they should tell them the Islamic view when they reach the age of 10 or 11.

He said, “You will have to tell children about these issues and discuss them if they ask questions. However, if you scare them off, then those children will say, ‘Well, my father doesn’t have an answer, neither does my mother, therefore what we are doing outside is okay. My parents are ignorant and uneducated.’”

In the above report by the Children’s Commissioner, it was said parents sometimes felt “uncomfortable” and that their children knew “more about technology than they do”, that’s why they were challenged when discussing social issues, especially if sexual in nature. 

Advising Ahmadi parents on their responsibilities in acquainting themselves with the modern environment, Huzooraa said:

“For this reason, you will have to acquaint yourselves with this new environment. You will need to know everything yourselves too. You have to leave that [old] mentality. Now that this age has changed, to save our new generations, we will have to acquire new insights”.

While meeting Ahmadis student girls from Germany, Huzooraa said, “Befriend your children, be friendly with them, be tolerant, answer their questions and show no kind of cruelty to them.” (Al Hakam, 3 December 2021, p. 5, www.alhakam.org/members-of-amwsa-germany-meet-hazrat-khalifatul-masih/ )

Huzooraa has highlighted that the duty given by Allah to parents was to “develop a friendship with your children”.

“‘From childhood, the child should know that “my mother is my friend and I can share everything with her.“ They should know that “my father is not strict. He doesn’t look at me with anger. He does not tell me off and hit me; rather, he is my friend”’, as a result, the child shares everything with their father. Especially when children reach 12, 13, 14 years of age, they begin to fear their fathers more and distance themselves. At that time, fathers should bring their children close and befriend them, Huzooraa said.”(Al Hakam, 17 December 2021, p. 3, www.alhakam.org/arab-ahmadis-in-canada-meet-hazrat-khalifatul-masih)

Ahmadis living in the modern world continue to be protected and assisted with the guidance of Khilafat. Repeatedly we see the latest research or advice from experts echoing what the Khulafa have already instructed. 

For this reason, the Holy Prophetsa of Islam had said, “The imam is a shield, behind whom [believers] fight”. (Sunan al-Nasai

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