The campaign to make sex and relationships education (SRE) compulsory achieved success in February 2017. The objective of SRE is to help and support young people through their physical, emotional and moral development – effective SRE is essential if young people are to make responsible and well-informed decisions about their lives.
A survey commissioned by the charity Plan International UK showed that 71 percent of British adults wanted pupils to be able to discuss sexting in schools.
Until quite recently, the term ‘sexting’ didn’t exist, yet it’s bulldozed its way into our vocabulary and, more worryingly, into the lives of young people.
Put simply, sexting is the term used to describe the taking and sending, or receiving of, sexually explicit images or messages – young people may also use the phrase ‘naked selfies’ to describe essentially the same thing. Early to mid-teens are at most risk from sexting; exact figures are hard to come by but it’s a trend that’s sweeping through a generation and needs to be addressed.
Why should you educate pupils about sexting?
Sexting can be harmful, and what most young people don’t know is that it’s actually illegal. Sending an indecent image of a child or young person under the age of 18 is against the law, even if a child sends one of themselves. Furthermore, sharing an image of a child – even though it may have been sent with consent – is also a criminal offense.
If a young girl or boy feels pressured (either directly from someone else or indirectly by society) to send naked selfies, they are still breaking the law by sending the images, and that’s one of the principle reasons sexting needs to be on the school agenda when it comes to pupil wellbeing.
The risks associated with sexting doesn’t stop with the law. Shared images are known to be passed on, and what may have started off as a private picture swap with a boyfriend/girlfriend can end up with those images being shared on social media, via messaging services, or any other medium. Having an intimate photo shared around school and beyond is naturally devastating for pupils; not just because of the resulting shame and embarrassment, but also as a result of the betrayal itself.
Indecent images posted online can often end up on child abuse websites and being shared by paedophiles – what starts out as a bit of ‘fun’ for pupils can and does quickly lead to something else entirely. Being honest with pupils and sharing the facts may just make them think twice before hitting the send button.
How can you educate pupils about sexting?
The NSPCC has put together a brilliant guide to preventing and dealing with incidents of sexting, and here are some of its top tips and suggestions for working with pupils in this area:
- Have conversations around peer pressure generally, but highlight that they absolutely have the right to say ‘no’ when it comes to their bodies.
- Challenge them on what they think is appropriate when it comes to images and what is shared; they may have some interesting thoughts!
- Offer reassurance if someone has had a bad experience of sexting – this isn’t the time or place for judging.
- If a child discloses that they have shared an image online then encourage them to remove it as soon as possible. Ask where the image originated from and who else may have seen it.
- If a disclosure is made that an adult has been engaging in sexting with a child, then an immediate referral to the police needs to be made.
- If an image is online and appears to have gone viral, contact Childline,who may be able to assist with the Internet Watch Foundation.
- Teach pupils about how to report explicit images and messages on social media.
Sexting is happening. Not all pupils are necessarily sending images of themselves, but they may have experienced the pressure to do so or be aware that their friends are engaging in it. Take the time to empower young people to say no, and make them aware of who in school they can go and speak to if they’re concerned about an image they may have sent, or are otherwise aware of.
If a pupil confides in you about a sexting incident
If a pupil discloses to you that they have been involved in sexting, try and maintain an understanding, calm and sensitive approach. Ensure that your actions follow your school’s Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy and, if you have one, policy on sexting – you should also notify the designated safeguarding lead.
Try to avoid looking at the image, video or message, and if the item is on a school device, isolate it immediately so that nobody else can access it.
Try and find out the details of the incident and record these in writing, including the following:
- The format of the sexting (is it an image, video or message)
- The pupil’s feelings towards the incident
- Whether any adults were involved
- What device it has been shared on
- How widely the image may have been shared and who it may have been shared with
You should contact the police or children’s social care if:
- You think the pupil is in immediate danger.
- Anyone over the age of 18 or under the age of 13 is involved.
- Images show violence.
- The incident was intended to cause physical or emotional harm
- You believe the pupil has been blackmailed, coerced or groomed.
NSPCC (2017) ‘Sexting’, <https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/keeping-children-safe/sexting/> [Accessed: 17 August 2017]