This week, the NSPCC issued sensible advice to parents about sexting referring to it being “increasingly common”. It sounded so old fashioned. Teenage boys have been sending images of their knob by mobile phone since those contraptions were bigger than their member. Frankly, semi-nude pics of young people are sent via the net in the millions every day. Parents can do no more than monitor phone and tablet usage and teach their children self-respect. There’s nothing wrong with a selfie – it is how young people communicate – look at my hair, my new shirt, my hangover, my abs – a decent selfie is a good laugh for all your mates and a way to chat up a new girlfriend or boyfriend. Sadly, like all rites of passage on the internet, the fun of selfies is sometimes hijacked by weirdos who groom young people to send sexual images.
Taking, distributing and downloading (making) indecent images of anyone under 18 is a criminal offence in the UK contrary to The Protection of Children Act 1978 but every young person knows they are not going to be prosecuted for sending pics of themselves. The real danger on the net therefore is the grooming. Grooming is NOT a criminal offence. S15 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 makes it an offence to meet a child following sexual grooming but the grooming, of itself, is not a crime. It’s just dodgy chat by someone who will be clever enough not to identify themselves or leave an IP address. The NSPCC advice recognises that “Young people may think ‘sexting’ is harmless but it can leave them vulnerable to “blackmail”, “bullying”, “unwanted attention” and “emotional distress”. It’s like school only on a much grander and more dangerous scale and parents and carers need to approach it in the same way. Parents hardly ever know what their teenagers are up to as teenagers don’t want them to know.
Jamie Oliver is unwisely trying to keep his children from having a mobile phone – they don’t need one – they will use his computer to download all sorts of things he is already too old to understand or go round to a friend’s house to kill people on a PS3 connected to the internet – even a sat nav can store data. Progress is inevitable. Parents need to maintain a meaningful relationship with their children and not panic at the sight of an iPad. Children need to be able to use the internet for their education and social development. They just need to learn to use it safely and tell the weirdos to get lost.