Keeping children and young people safe, online and offline

Back in June Ofsted published a shocking report that described the extent to which sexual harassment has become (in their words) “normalised” among children. It was a follow-up to Everyone’s Invited, a helpline set up by the government in response to thousands of allegations from children and young people describing daily sexual harassment, both online and offline. Now Rachel de Souza, the children’s commissioner for England, has published a guide for parents and carers on online sexual harassment and how they can support children to stay safe online. According to the children’s commissioner, a key message is that parents “should start these challenging conversations early … We see this guide as the ‘starting point’ for parents to begin confronting the issues with their children.”

The things I wish my parents had known… draws together advice from focus groups made up of 16–21-year-olds on how parents should manage tricky conversations around sexual harassment and access to inappropriate content, including pornography.

Parents are strongly advised to 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 often around the age of 9 or 10.”

The guide focuses on issues such as:

  • easily accessed online pornography
  • pressure to send nude pictures
  • sexualised bullying
  • editing pictures and body image
  • peer pressure

The guide also includes a huge number of links to resources produced by organisations such as the NSPCC, Childnet and Internet Matters.

Since March 2020, thousands of young women have been sharing their experiences of sexual harassment through the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ project. This is an online platform where girls — who are still mostly in school — have described growing up in a world where harassment, including sexualised comments, slut‑shaming and the sharing of nude pictures, is part of their everyday lives. This harmful behaviour happens online and offline. I’ve seen this first‑hand during my time as a headteacher and I know how stressful and damaging it can be for children, especially girls.

Of course, boys can experience sexualised bullying too, and when they do it’s often in the form of homophobic abuse, or through pressure to be more ‘masculine’.

From the foreword to The things I wish my parents had known…

In March we blogged about a grassroots campaign called Our Streets Now. The campaign began with two sisters, then aged 15 and 21, who decided to take a stand against what they described as the normalisation of public sexual harassment and the terrible impact that it has on women and girls. When you click on their website almost the first message you see is: ‘Public sexual harassment is everywhere. We won’t rest until it’s nowhere.’

The UK government’s relationships and sex statutory guidance, introduced in England from September 2020, aims high:

… we want to support all young people to be happy, healthy and safe – we want to equip them for adult life and to make a positive contribution to society.

However, we argued in our blog Bringing about cultural change needs new and radical thinking — itself written in the wake of the shocking murder of Sarah Everard — that relationships education needs to be a central focus of the curriculum if we are truly to bring about “a fundamental, irreversible and much-needed change in our culture”. Without a radical rethink, is anything fundamentally going to change?

Life-Based Learning envisages an integrated approach to learning that moves away from the rigid compartmentalisation of knowledge and skills into individual subjects, with the ensuing risk that much of importance is lost in the interstices between one subject and the next.

Instead, it reframes the curriculum around nine learning themes that directly address the life challenges we face, now and in the decades to come. Relationships is one of those themes.

In short, life itself becomes the ultimate focus of the learning. The LBL approach will ensure that every individual has the opportunity to know and look after themselves better; that individuals are able to forge deep, fulfilling and long-lasting connections with others; and that people as a whole live in greater harmony with the living world that is Planet Earth.

Image at the head of this article by Gemma Moll from Pixabay.

Guide for Parents

NSPCC

Our Streets Now

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