Youth voice in the Government's online safety inquiry

Posted on 24 March 2014

On the 20th March, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee published the results of its inquiry into online safety. We take a look at the contribution by young people who shared their thoughts about pornography, online bullying and why sex and relationships education is so important.

The inquiry heard from a range of experts about three key areas: child abuse images, harmful content online and bullying and harassment on social media. Childnet teamed up with ChildLine, Brook, Care, Safermedia and Porn Scars to ensure that young people fed into the inquiry too.

The importance of youth voice

It is crucial that young people have the opportunity to input into policy discussions around internet safety, to ensure we are listening to them about the issues they face online, and explore what might be the best solutions.

In January, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee heard from a youth panel discussion, chaired by Hannah Broadbent from Childnet.

As the report states:

"Many other organisations and individuals submitted written evidence, among them charities representing children and young people. Nevertheless, we felt it important to engage directly with young people themselves....The young people each gave us compelling and, at times, harrowing accounts of the harmful experiences they had endured as a result of online bullying and access to age-inappropriate material, particularly adult pornography."

The young people shared their perspectives about the impact of online bullying and exposure to harmful content such as pornography. They called for good sex and relationships education and better tools from social networks. 

Adult content

Some of the young people on the panel shared their experiences about pornography and the impact it can have on relationships with partners, family and peers.

"One young man told us how he had first encountered pornography at the age of eight; viewing pornography had subsequently become a habit which distorted his picture of loving relationships. Another participant told us how, as a teenager, she had been drawn accidentally into viewing pornography from information in a fashion magazine; just one encounter had made her feel ashamed and had affected her relationship with her father. Some girls told us how boyfriends sometimes expected them to behave like "porn stars" and that the exchange of sexually explicit material on mobile phones could lead to bullying."

When discussing the solutions to these issues, the young people were all in agreement about the importance of better sex and relationships education, while there were varying views on filtering tools.

"Some called for stronger filtering to prevent access to harmful material online, particularly pornography. We were told of boys circumventing the filters in place in school to access age-inappropriate content. However, others expressed concern that if filters were too strong or inappropriately applied, young people could be prevented from accessing websites offering advice on sexual health and online safety."
"The young people we met in January were unanimous that schools should be required to offer sex and relationships education. As one young person put it, teachers are a sounder source of professional information on sex than friends or the internet. The young people said providing them with the knowledge, tools and confidence to navigate potential online dangers would ultimately be more beneficial than technical measures."
"We are aware this is a politically contested subject but believe the Government should take into account the views of the young people who gave evidence to us of the value and importance of good quality mandatory sex and relationship education as policy develops."

Bullying and abuse on social media

The youth panel also shared their experiences about bullying online. They explained how sexting can lead into bullying, when an image of a girl is shared more widely and the girl is bullied for having taken such images.

The young people felt that industry could do more to help. As the report states:

"One of the teenage girls we talked to in January told us that, with Facebook, it was hard to get bullying material taken down or blocked; when it was eventually removed, the damage had already been done".

Continuing to listen to young people

At Childnet, we will continue to ensure that young people are given opportunities to speak directly with industry and policymakers. On Safer Internet Day 2014 a group of young people joined a panel discussion where they shared their views about what would create a better internet. To listen to their ideas, you can see the video on our UK Safer Internet Centre website.

If you're a young person and want to get involved, sign up to our youth newsletter to hear about the latest opportunities. Visit our Get Involved page to find out more.


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