Talk to your child about porn. No one else will do it, or should | Barbara Ellen

Parents have a responsibility to protect their young from increasingly explicit online content

Is it time parents faced reality – their children are never going to tell them about the porn they watch online?

A New Zealand video (the latest in a Keep It Real Online government series), which has gone viral, deals with children and porn. Two naked adult film actors, Derek and Sue, show up at a family home and chirpily address the mother: “Hiya, your son is watching us online.”

“We usually perform for adults but your son’s just a kid,” says Sue. “He might not know how relationships actually work. We never even talk about consent, we just get straight to it.” A young boy appears, holding a laptop, sees the porn actors and drops his cereal bowl.

The advert is nicely done – humorous but sharp – and the message gets through. Maybe more of a message than was intended. The ad is presented as a friendly warning (“Your child could be watching porn”), but it’s closer to parental wish-fulfilment. Kindly, albeit naked, strangers showing up at your door to give you the nod about your child’s online activities, opening that conversation for you? You wish. In reality, the buck stops with you.

The ad follows a 2019 study about how some New Zealand teenagers use online porn to learn about sex. There was a similar report from Ireland in 2018. I thought then as I do now: teenagers can’t find out about sex from porn – they can only find out about porn from porn. This continues to be a hugely disturbing and complicated issue. Modern youngsters are dealing with unprecedented explicit content, unlimited access and sheer volume. They’re routinely bombarded with damaging, violent, non-consensual imagery their immature brains haven’t a hope of processing.

Another issue is parents. Not in a judgmental “blame the parents” way, but because parents are, by definition, central to all issues in a child’s life. As loving and concerned as parents might be, maybe some of us don’t deal with the “porn talk” so well. You’ll get parents who naively don’t realise their children are looking or refuse to accept they are. Parents who presume that girls aren’t implicated (even if they don’t watch porn, they’ll almost definitely be dealing with those who have). Parents presuming it’s the same porn that’s always been around. (It’s not.) Parents who simply can’t face bringing it up and prefer to wait the “phase” out. And so on.

This isn’t about being a nation of prudes – introducing the topic of pornography to your child is difficult – but who else will, but you? Sex education in schools can’t do everything. As for your child maturely and responsibly broaching the subject with you… Give them a tiny break! Just like the porn itself, this is not something teenagers should be expected to deal with. Nor are helpful porn stars likely to turn up at your door. If any parents (or kids) out there have already dealt with this, then sincere respect to you. Everyone else: I’m afraid this is down to you.

Farewell, Vera Lynn, always a patriot, never a nationalist

Vera Lynn
‘Sometimes her silence was as resonant as her singing’: Vera Lynn.
Photograph: Tony Evans/Timelapse Library Ltd/Getty

Dame Vera Lynn has died, aged 103. The “Forces Sweetheart” will chiefly be remembered for songs such as We’ll Meet Again and White Cliffs of Dover, which gave comfort to British people during the Second World War. Beyond the singing, perhaps part of Lynn’s legacy was what she didn’t say and do.

My idea of being “patriotic” about British music would probably be punk rock, the UK’s anarchic rebellious gift to the world, cultural light years away from Lynn. Still, it’s laudable how she, one of the ultimate symbols of British patriotism, managed to remain untainted by nationalism throughout her long career, even if her most famous songs weren’t so lucky.

In this way, Lynn was similar to the Queen, in recognising the power of remaining neutral so that others – complete strangers – could project their needs and desires on to you. Sadly, this meant that the essence of what Lynn and her music represented (patriotism, remembrance, the terrible sacrifice of troops) could sometimes end up hijacked and twisted by unscrupulous politicos lunging for, say Brexit or the “grey vote”. And others, with darker more sinister and xenophobic agendas.

Crucially, Lynn never pandered to any of this. Her most overt public gesture was to oppose Scottish independence. In 2009, she sued the British National party for using We’ll Meet Again on an anti-immigration album.

Lynn famously didn’t wish to be viewed as political. However, maybe this in itself became a statement. Over the years, she must have had plenty of gruesome “opportunities” to cash in on her “true Brit” reputation, to become a figurehead for a certain brand of nationalistic mentality. But she always kept her distance. Sometimes, it’s not only about what we do, it’s also about what we refuse to do. RIP, Dame Vera Lynn: sometimes her silence was as resonant as her singing.

Kristen Stewart is perfect to play the darker side of Diana

Kristen Stewart
‘Perfectly cast’: Kristen Setwart. Photograph: Allstar/Columbia Pictures

Kristen Stewart is to portray Princess Diana. Finally, a casting decision we can all get behind. Stewart has been chosen by Pablo Larrain (director of Jackie) to star in a biopic of Diana, scripted by Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders) set over a weekend when she realises her marriage to Prince Charles is on the rocks.

Stewart rose to prominence in a role where she romanced a vampire, so some people may question how she came to be cast as the “Princess of Hearts”. I say, “the Undead”, Prince Charles, what’s the problem? More seriously, why should the role of Diana go to someone demure and soppy? I always thought Diana was done a great disservice by all that bland, maudlin stereotyping. The true Diana Spencer seemed far more complex, not to mention sulky, manipulative and dark.

Therefore, Stewart is perfectly cast. I look forward to scenes depicting Diana venting her rage at Charles by angrily rollerskating around palaces, listening to Wham! on her Walkman. Knight can add some of his signature menace (flick knives at Balmoral?). If they can’t get anyone to play Prince Andrew, perhaps he could be represented by a pizza box, with a face drawn on it in marker pen? With Stewart on board, finally it looks as though Diana might get the retrospective she deserves.

• Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist

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Barbara Ellen

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