Should children be exposed to mature themes?

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Is it now time to stop trying to shelter children from some of the cruel realities of the world?

by Harry Clarke-Ezzidio

A school in Oxford has recently come under fire for asking one of their GCSE English classes to write a mock suicide note as part of a class exercise for J.B. Priestley’s play An Inspector Calls. As part of the exercise, students were invited to imagine that they were a young woman in 1912, writing a suicide note to their loved ones.

Unsurprisingly, this exercise didn’t go down too well with some kids and parents.

Speaking to the BBC, one mother said that their child told them that there was “no warning, no support, no encouragement.” The mother of this particular child has also had a relative attempt suicide in the past, admitting that she felt “uncomfortable and uneasy” when her child told her about the task. The mother did note that the school’s intentions were in the right place, noting that if done right, it could “raise awareness of teen mental health and suicide.” I’m positive that the school’s intentions were to open a dialogue about mental health – however, their execution left a lot to be desired.

In light of this story hitting the headlines, the age-old debate, surrounding kids and their exposure to mature themes, rears its familiar head from around the corner. Normally this discussion is plagued with awkward seat-squirming and umming-and-ahhing as parents shudder about the prospect of their kids potentially being exposed to the realities of the world they live in. It’s time to get real.

In today’s world where everyone is online, children have access to all of the weird, wonderful and dark corners on the internet. Kids have an almost innate yearning to push the limits and it is very easy for them to end up on sites where they are exposed to mature themes. Normally on the internet, this is the extreme end of each theme. It’s almost inevitable that kids will come across mature content on the internet. Sometimes, they intentionally seek it out too – you can’t stop them. So, parents – lulled into a false sense of really where they think their kids aren’t actively looking for mature content – being a bit iffy about their kids being exposed to mature themes in a controlled environment such as school, where discussion can be moderated by a teacher, seems laughable.

Let’s not forget that not everyone’s childhood is all sunflowers and roses – a lot of these kids are living the realities of some of these mature themes that parents want to shield from. Children may have parents or other family members who have been through things like (attempted) suicide, drug and substance abuse or physical or mental abuse amongst other things. This is the reality for kids, not only up and down the country, but across the world. School is basically a tailor-made environment where a teacher can, in a controlled way, introduce, facilitate, and moderate discussion about a certain topic, especially in a subject such as English, where dark and mature themes appear more often than not. Those kids who are willing to participate in a mature discussion will ideally benefit from the discussion, and those who don’t want to partake – for whatever reason – are free to do so.

I think that we can all agree that as a society, we need to open up more about things such as mental health. Naturally, as Brits, we tend to have a stiff upper lip and ‘keep on keeping on’; but it’s now time to be honest with ourselves, and our kids. By opening up a discussion, children already going through dark periods will be able to reflect on their own feelings and realise that there is help available, and that they aren’t alone. Children are a lot more mature than adults give them credit for.


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