Teach 10-year-olds about the ‘devastating’ effects of sexting, psychologists say

Schools should warn P7s of the pitfalls of sending explicit messages, say child psychology experts

Henry Hepburn

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Children in Scotland should be taught about the dangers of sexting from P7, according to the authors of a major report, who have said that pupils risk “absolutely devastating” consequences when they share explicit pictures.

Pupils rarely go to teachers for help when problems arise because of sexting – and those who do, don't find it helpful, the researchers found.

And some schools, they warned, are reluctant to deal with sexting at all because they see it as the parents’ responsibility. But the researchers argued that schools should acknowledge that sexting is widely viewed by teenagers as normal behaviour, and that teachers will lose credibility if they overstate the negatives.

The research by Fife Council educational psychologists – to be published in the coming weeks – is thought to be the most extensive examination of sexting by any Scottish local authority, with more than 800 S1 and S3s completing online surveys just before the summer.

'Suicidal thoughts and self-harm'

While 38 per cent of S3s had received inappropriate images – defined as naked or nearly naked pictures – a significant minority of S1s had, too (14 per cent).

“There can be a really significant impact on pupils’ emotional wellbeing,” said Fife acting principal educational psychologist Vivienne Sutherland, who added that, in a small number of cases, the impact could be “absolutely devastating”. The effects could include suicidal thoughts, self-harm, low school attendance and disengagement from learning, she said.

But “a lot of school staff feel very nervous” about addressing sexting and there were differing views over who should take responsibility. “Some schools said it was a very serious issue…others were going, ‘It’s really nothing to do with us, it happens outwith school, so really parents should be dealing with it,' without realising the impact it was having on their pupils,” said Ms Sutherland.

This is an edited version of an article in the 14 October edition of TESS. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click hereTESS magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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