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Revealing all? – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 18th August 2016

August 17, 2016

Revealing all?

A recent YouGov survey of parents of teenagers found that there has been a change in the last few years about what concerns parents most. Alcohol and tobacco abuse remain significant worries but some 78% of parents were now emphasising their anxiety over sexting – sending a sexually explicit image. Some 10% of the respondents felt that schools needed to provide more education on the issue whilst only 13% felt that involving the Police was an effective way of dealing with the problem.


Sexting – sending a sexually explicit image 

At Ballard we certainly do spend a lot of time (especially in PSHE lessons) trying to teach about the perils and the positives of using social media of all types – and warning about the pitfalls of things like sexting. We are aware, however, that human nature being what it is (curious and inclined to push boundaries), the more someone in authority says ‘no’ to something, the more it can lead some people to want to say ’yes’ to it. I remember in my first year of teaching (in 1980) being concerned when the local Police force in Bedford (where my school was) being reluctant to come and speak to the pupils about the dangers of drug taking. The schools’ liaison officer then explained to us that their experience had been that the more graphic and detailed their talks became, the more it seemed that young people wanted to experiment. They had found that it was helpful to give information about the different types of drugs, and to mention the potential dangers whilst stressing the financial cost and the impact on families, but then linking a talk in with other social concerns (such as violence, theft and domestic upset) so as not to put too much emphasis on one thing (drugs) which might make them more desirable by being highlighted over other concerns.

I have some understanding of the argument used by the Bedford Police and appreciate that there are different approaches we can make to social evils. More recent moves to anonymise cigarette packets and to hide them behind cupboards in shops do seem to be helping reduce the number of younger tobacco smokers – but the glamourizing of e-cigarettes now seem to be taking up the slack (but that’s another story)!


plain packaging cigarettes from Australia – and soon the UK?

To return to sexting, my concerns echo those in an article by Sarah Newton of the Independent. As a former Police Officer, and now a Youth Coach, Ms Newton says that it is naïve for people to believe it’s best keeping the Police out of sexting concerns. Many parents argue that sexting is a matter of personal development and sex education (‘they’re just kids’ and ‘it’s innocent fun’ some say) but, according to Ms Newton, there is no such thing as ‘innocently’ sending an explicit photo to a friend. Ms Newton argues that we should indeed engage the Police when sexting occurs as they are best placed to advise those caught up in it. She confirms the legalities: ‘The law on sending indecent or sexually explicit photographs of an under-18 is crystal clear: it is an offence to possess or distribute a prohibited image (an image intended for sexual arousal), or incite another to do so, even if that image is of yourself’. Her argument is not that we should be seeking to criminalise youngsters but more that they need to know that if they take the risk over sexting, they need to understand that there will be a reckoning – even with a Police Officer.

Finally, Ms Newton suggests that calling it ‘sexting’ can seem to make it seem less serious as an offence in the same way that some serious assaults are dismissed as banter or bullying. She concludes: ‘Sending a sexually explicit image is an offence…we must protect our young people by seeing teen sexting as the crime it really is’. I do appreciate that our natural reaction, both at home and in school, is to try and deal with this issue ‘in house’ believing that we can best contain it because we know the young people better than any outsider. This is a reasonable line to take but perhaps we should also consider Ms Newton’s argument as a former Police Officer that we might do well to involve the Police more often if we really want sexting to be seen as the offence it undoubtedly is.

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)




One Comment leave one →
  1. September 3, 2016 12:07 pm

    designatedsafeguardinglead sexting is a concern to most schools it seems – hopefully with our procedures in place we can protect and educate

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