Childline advice for 'sexting' and online safety

by My Kent Family reporter

Keeping safe online, relationships and issues surrounding mental health are to be part of new compulsory lessons for pupils.

Education secretary Damian Hinds insists the changes will help children better understand the "ever more complex world" they are living in.

In the first major shake up of such lessons for more than 10 years children as young as four will be taught about the dangers of talking to people on the internet, what to do about seeing things that make them feel uncomfortable and the importance of respect. Whilst viewing harmful content online, the impact of drugs and alcohol on mental health and the sharing of private photos or explicit messages will be discussed with secondary school pupils when the new curriculum comes into force in September next year.

Children as young as four will be given new lessons in online safety
Children as young as four will be given new lessons in online safety

In a special column for My Kent Family, Childline services manager Wendy Robinson looks at the issues surrounding 'sexting' and shares what parents really need to know:

‘Dirties’, ‘pic for pic’, ‘trading nudes’ – these terms might sound unfamiliar but sadly if you’re a young person today the chances are you’ve already heard of them.

They’re all slang for sexting – when someone shares sexual, naked or semi-naked images or videos of themselves or others, or sends sexually explicit messages, using mobiles, tablets, smartphones or laptops.

To young people, sexting might seem like a bit of harmless fun but it’s important to remember that in the eyes of the law creating or sharing an explicit image of a child is illegal, even if the person doing it is a child.

There are many reasons why a young person might share images of themselves. They might feel it boosts their self-esteem, they're testing their sexual identity or they might find it difficult to say ‘no’ if the person asking is persistent.

But the risks are serious. The young person could be blackmailed or bullied as a result, they might feel embarrassed and humiliated and they don’t know where the images will end up once they’ve sent them – they could be viewed and shared by adults they don’t know.

Talking to children is vital
Talking to children is vital

So how do you talk to your children about such a sensitive subject?

It’s important to find the right way to start the conversation. Every child is different and you know your child best so your approach should be based on their character and your relationship with them.

You could try:

· Being clear about your expectations of them having a smartphone or tablet.

· Asking them what they feel is acceptable to send to others and how they’d feel if a stranger saw certain pictures.

· Encouraging them to feel comfortable saying ‘no’.

· Explaining to them the importance of trust and consent in relationships.

· Exploring Childline’s advice about relationships and online safety together.

There are apps and advice to help parents ensure their children negotiate the online world safely
There are apps and advice to help parents ensure their children negotiate the online world safely

It’s important to explain the risks of sexing. Don’t accuse them of doing anything wrong but carefully explain what can happen when things go wrong.

Talk about the Granny rule - would you want your Granny to see the image you’re sharing?

And make it clear you’ll be supportive and understanding no matter what happens. It’s vital they know they can come to you for support if they’re feeling pressured by anyone.

Why not also encourage them to download Childline’s free Zipit app, which allows children to send fun, silly GIFs in response to requests for explicit images so they can take back control.

Simply search for ‘Zipit’ in the App Store or on Google Play.

* For further advice, speak to the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000. If your child doesn’t feel comfortable speaking to you, encourage them to speak to one of our trained Childline volunteer counsellors on 0800 1111 or visit www.childline.org.

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