Chief Censor David Shanks on how to keep kids safe this holiday


It's the most wonderful time of year, but it can be a dangerous time for young people being exposed to explicit content they shouldn't be.

David Shanks is the chief censor at the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC), which is tasked with informing the community about what media content is safe

We live in a time with access to exponentially more media than ever before and as school students go on holiday over the Christmas break, they'll be consuming a lot of it.

Here are four tips from the chief censor on how to keep young people safe over summer.

Don't leave children watching YouTube without supervision

"Parents need to be aware that they can't leave children foraging on YouTube and watching whatever they want," says Mr Shanks.

"There is content on there that will challenge, horrify and disturb children. Parents should really be in the room, managing the content for young children."

Some of the worst content that specifically targets children on YouTube gained much coverage recently in what was known as the Elsagate controversy.

R18 games are just as R18 as any other R18 product

"There is a group of parents who think a videogame looks cartoonish, it's animated, so it must be for kids," says Mr Shanks.

"That's a group of parents who probably don't game themselves and don't understand how realistic they're becoming. Those parents need to wake up - games are very impactful and research is showing that games can actually be more hazardous for a young person's mental wellbeing than an R18 film."

Netflix shows for 'young adults' deal candidly with rape, suicide and eating disorders

13 Reasons Why caused ignited a debate in New Zealand this year over its graphic depiction of sexual violence, bullying and suicide.

The controversy was addressed by the OFLC and a new rating was created.

"With 13 Reasons Why, we were reacting to community complaints that were raised with the censorship office, but the show was already screening at that point," says Mr Shanks.

"We responded by consulting with experts and young people in developing the RP18 rating, specifically for that show. But more important than the rating was the advice we were able to provide parents and the community about the risks with 13 Reasons Why."

What that show taught the OFLC allowed it to work with Netflix ahead of the release of To The Bone, which has similarly controversial content. Mr Shanks says Netflix has been very co-operative and together they're now able to prepare for the release of potentially harmful content and advise the community appropriately.

Even when young people say they're OK with graphic content, they may not be

Significant research was undertaken by the OFLC in 2017 on the effect of explicit material on young people. Mr Shanks says it was heartening how mature most were in dealing with graphic media, but there were areas of concern.

"I'm impressed by how savvy many New Zealand teens are about explicit material, but they are still young people working out their feelings and views of the world. We found in our research a very strong third-person effect," says Mr Shanks.

"There was a feeling that the material they were viewing wasn't having an effect on them. They could see how it might be having an effect on their friends and certainly wouldn't want younger members of their family viewing it, but thought they were OK. But we could see that they were visibly effected by some of the material we showed them, but they would dismiss that effect on themselves."