On the way to a conference in Birmingham this morning, I picked up a copy of the Metro and was alarmed by the front page story on the leaking of thousands of images which children and young people had shared through a popular photo messaging app. The full story is here.
Reading the story, I was deeply concerned about this gross violation of the privacy of children and young people, particularly when it became clear that some of the images were of an explicit nature – a reminder that sharing such images is a common practice amongst children and young people. Research from the NSPCC describes sharing of sexual images by children as young as 11, which is a matter of significant concern to me and my colleagues at the PSHE Association as well as parents and communities across the country.
Although the use of web filters can help restrict children from accessing explicit materials online, we have to be realistic that children have access to other ways and means to share explicit images – including images they have taken themselves. The best way we can protect young people is to educate them to understand the risks and manage the pressures and expectations to share images of themselves and others in the first place. This is why the PSHE Association has produced guidance for teachers on this issue, addressing questions about how sharing sexual images and the use of pornography can be covered in the curriculum.
PSHE education is at its worst when it is judgmental, and we never take that approach in our briefings; but it is important that children and young people understand the risks of sharing images of themselves and others – even with those they feel very close to. That doing so is technically a criminal offence may be a secondary consideration for many young people, but they do need to learn that sharing such images does leave them highly vulnerable. PSHE education can play an important role in that learning, but must dive deeper than simple lectures on the law and seek instead to understand and engage with pupils’ reality.
I want PSHE education to be a positive subject, focussed on building good mental health, strong relationships, safe and healthy choices and better career prospects. Part of this learning is about exploring risk. Sharing explicit images is risky – not only when events like those recounted in the Metro take place, but every day as well. I hope PSHE teachers will use our guidance to help them play their part in ensuring pupils fully understand these risks.
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