The Enemy Within
For many years, e-safety education in schools has focused on raising children’s awareness of the ‘stranger danger’. Campaigns dwelt on the dangers of talking to strangers, and since the age of the internet and mobile phones, the focus has been on warning children against sharing their photos or personal information with people they don’t know. There has also been an emphasis on stamping out cyberbullying – the use of technology to invade a child’s privacy, threaten, cajole or otherwise exert power over them. The use of videos in the so-called ‘happy slapping‘ incidents in the UK was one of the first high profile incidences of cyberbullying, but as I have written in previous posts such as Textual Harassment, it can be much more insidious than that.
Now a new report written by a team of academics from the Institute of Education, London School of Ecoconomics, and King’s College London, has thrown new light onto problems of cyberbullying. Entitled A qualitative study of children, young people and sexting , the report suggests that the biggest threat to e-safety comes from within. Professor Rosalind Gill, one of the authors of the report, said that whilst we have been concentrating on protecting children from contact with strangers online, we are losing sight of a new trend – peer pressure. “Our report suggests that the focus needs to shift to include the much more complicated issue of peer-to-peer communication and the difficulties and isolation young people experience in negotiating this,” she said (source: BBC News). The report shows that the worrying trend of ‘sexting’ – the sending and receiving of sexually explicit messages and images via mobile devices – seems to be something that children in school accept as a part of their daily life. Even more disturbingly the report features interviews with children as young as 8 years old who have been pressured by their classmates and others they know to take and send ‘special images’ of themselves. The executive summary offers seven key results from the study. 1) Threat comes mainly from peers 2) Sexting is often coercive 3) Girls are most adversely affected 4) Technology amplifies the problem 5) Sexting reveals wider sexual problems 6) Ever younger children affected 7) Sexting practices are culturally specific.
The report summary also points out that the study, conducted in partnership with the NSPCC, was a small scale study with only 35 participants, and that caution is needed before any generalisations are made to larger populations of school children.