Following a report revealing that 700 children have been excluded from school for sexual misconduct, our experts give their advice on how to help children make safer choices about sex and relationships on and offline.
Children may be exposed to a range of sexual material, including online pornography or exposure to youth produced sexual imagery (also known as ‘sexting’). These issues are not necessarily new; some of us may have experienced this as a result of an accidental typo in an internet search, or from deliberately looking up rude words out of curiosity!
Some suggestions for parents to consider are:
Use parental control tools and filters to help reduce the risks of your child being exposed to sexual content
Be aware that these tools can’t be relied upon alone so consider other approaches such as supervision.
Build a positive and ongoing dialogue:
Sex and relationships can be an uncomfortable topic to discuss with children. It’s difficult to know the right age to have these conversations and there can be real fears about ‘ruining’ innocence. Childnethave some useful advice to help parents.
Being exposed to sexual content can be confusing and distressing; it’s important to have conversations with children from an early age so they feel able to seek support and advice. Avoid using shaming or blaming terms – a fear of being punished may prevent children from accessing help
Schools should speak with children about sexualised content as part of age appropriate sex and relationships education (SRE). The PSHE association, the Sex Education Forum and UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) have useful guidance for schools and colleges about discussing issues such as pornography and ‘sexting’.
Inappropriate sexualised behaviour by children can often be managed by schools and parents; however in some cases it may require specialist advice and support. It’s important for schools to have clear policies and procedures in place to support children who may be demonstrating problematic or abusive sexualised behaviours. Schools should access local procedures or support; this may include Local Safeguarding Children Board, Preventative Services and Social Care teams, or organisations such as
Every child should have the right to feel safe, whether at home or at school. It is important that children and young people understand what acceptable behaviour looks like and parents have a vital role in setting those boundaries for their children.
We are really pleased that relationship education is going to become a statutory subject in 2019 and believe that preventing harmful sexual behaviour through proper, up-to-date sex and relationships education is immeasurably better than excluding children after the harm has been done.
Helping young people understand true consent
Children and young people need to understand the meaning of true consent and be able to have the confidence to speak out if they are being harmed. We need to make sure that we recognise the difference between early potentially harmful sexual behaviour and work with partners to divert young people, as opposed to young peoples natural curiosity to experiment for which we do not want to unnecessarily criminalise.
The guidance on youth produced sexual images is an example of how the police and schools can work together to respond in a proportionately appropriate way.
We all have a duty of care to safeguard and protect children and young people in our society, young people need to be able to make safe choices on line and parents have a crucial role in supporting this and building good relationships with their children. The police need to be ready to listen and support children and young people when they need us the most.
It is becoming increasingly more difficult for parents to be able to monitor their children; in regard to who they are mixing with, what they are doing and what they are being exposed to. For example, there is an increase in 13-14-year-olds thinking that sexting is normal and that learning about sexual relationships via pornographic sites is also the norm.
Good quality education on sex and relationships is key.
What can parents do? Firstly, don’t be afraid to talk to your children and encourage them to talk to you. Conversations should be honest and non-judgemental; trust from an early age can then be encouraged.
What can schools do
Having good quality sex and relationships education is imperative and should be delivered by staff that are comfortable in doing so. Schools should also think about utilising all staff, charities and agencies to come in and help deliver PSHE lessons as pupils may feel uncomfortable with their maths teacher delivering relationship advice.
Overall, children should be made to feel comfortable and listened to from an early age.
Unfortunately, unwanted touching, physical and verbal harassment has always taken place in schools. The statistics that were published last week reflect that, whilst it is always very difficult for victims to come forward and I don’t doubt that for every incident that is reported, many others are not, young people are being encouraged and empowered by school staff to come forward and speak to professionals about their experiences. Furthermore, this data reflects the positive news that schools are finally beginning to take disclosures of sexual assault seriously, rather than ignoring, dismissing or victim-blaming.
Schools have a duty of care to provide an environment that preserves the rights, dignity and safety of all students. In implementing such a serious punishment as a fixed-term exclusion, it sends a clear signal to the perpetrator that the behaviour is viewed as the serious offence that it is, as well as reassuring the victim that they have the schools support.
Ultimately, however, we are talking about children, no matter how grown up they may look and feel. It is so important that parents get there first to challenge the proliferation of unhelpful and unhealthy representations of sexual behaviour and, most importantly, to listen without judgement.
See more resources and articles to keep children safe online.