Parents must switch on safety features on their children’s phones and devices to prevent them getting into “digital danger”, an education minister has urged.
Vicky Ford, minister for children and families, issued a plea to parents to protect their children from online pornography after a review found that sexual harassment has become “normalised” for schoolchildren.
Ofsted inspectors were told that boys are sharing “nude” photos among themselves like a “collection game” – and around nine in 10 girls said being sent explicit pictures or videos happens to them or their peers.
Children often do not see the point of reporting sexual harassment because it happens so frequently while many teachers consistently underestimate the scale of these problems, the review concluded.
Ms Ford highlighted the “chilling” accounts given by victims before telling the Commons: “Let me be clear – sexism and misogyny is not OK.
“Sexual harassment, let alone non-consensual touching, groping or sexual contact, none of this is OK.
“Sending unrequested nudes is not OK and neither is bullying your peers into sending a nude, and then sharing it with your mates.”
She added: “We as a Government, as parents, educators and as a society must work together to turn the cultural dial.”
Ms Ford noted the Children’s Commissioner has been asked to “immediately” start looking at how to reduce children’s access to pornography.
She added: “There is an important role for parents here. As a mum, I know the difficulty in discussing these issues with our children.
“But parents need to be aware of what their children are doing and how to support them when things go wrong.”
Ms Ford went on: “Right now it’s estimated that 1.4 million children access pornography every month in the UK and what they’re seeing is changing the way that they perceive sex and relationships.
“So, please, parents, turn on your broadband filters and make sure you understand and switch on the safety features on your children’s phones and devices.
“Just as you wouldn’t put your children into physical danger, don’t allow your child to go into digital danger.”
School and college leaders are being encouraged to dedicate inset day time to train staff on how to deal with sexual abuse and harassment among pupils as part of series of measures unveiled by the Government.
Addressing MPs on Thursday, Ms Ford suggested that part of these inset days could be focused on how to better involve parents on online safety risks, as she called for more schools to work with families on such issues.
She said: “We do need to up that game and make sure that parents not only know that the advice is there, but also access it.”
“We do remember that it is often the parents who buy the phone, own the phone contract,” Ms Ford added.
Speaking in the Commons, shadow justice minister Peter Kyle asked: “We all agree on the need for action but I must ask the minister why has it taken so long? And why did it take a national scandal to force the Government to act?”
Mr Kyle added: “We have been calling for action and making constructive implementable policy recommendations for years.
“We now need a clear plan to tackle sexual abuse and harassment in school backed up by clear dates for delivery.
“We need tough action in the Online Safety Bill to tackle the forced and unwanted sharing of nude photos and other online harassment.”