News Date: Monday 30th April 2012
Minister responds to debate on ‘sexting’ and calls on parents to take more responsibility for their children’s internet activity
Last week, Children’s Minister, Tim Loughton, responded to a Westminster Hall debate on the topic of sexting and sexual grooming. Sexting involves the sharing of sexually suggestive electronic messages or images, primarily between mobile phones. The Minister restated his clear message that he and his colleagues are determined to prevent the sexual grooming of children through digital communications such as sexting and social networking websites like Facebook.
The latest Ofcom figures suggest that about 50% of 8-11 year olds and 88% of 12-15 year olds own a mobile phone. Wide cross party support has grown in recognition that sharing sexually explicit content through mobile phones and websites is extremely easy thing to do, even for young children. Tim said: ‘The use of technology to groom children through the internet and social networking is already a real concern and mobile phones are an addition to this. This is something I am working hard on as Children's Minister and also as the Chairman of the United Kingdom Council on Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS.)
These problems have drawn in cross party support and we are working towards greater inter-industry cooperation and collaboration as well as a focus on early intervention and making sure that parents and teachers explain to their children that sharing sexual content digitally can be very dangerous.’
Last week, the MP for East Worthing and Shoreham also called for parents to take more responsibility in monitoring their children’s internet activity adding ‘having a Facebook page, you should be at least 13 to do that. That is not legally enforceable.’
"We know, and I know from personal experience, the temptations for younger children to set up a Facebook site and get involved with those social media."And I also know that in too many cases they do that aided and abetted by parents. So it's not just a question of giving information to parents, it's making sure parents are acting responsibly on behalf of their children too."
Government and Agency Action
In the debate, Tim outlined some of the government and agency work that had been done so far.The UK Council on Child Internet Safety works to improve the awareness and understanding of parents, children and teachers regarding online safety. That includes educating children and young people about the implications of their online behaviour and the “digital footprint” they leave, particularly where information or images of an extremely personal nature are concerned.
Important work was undertaken earlier this year: CEOP led in the creation of UKCCIS advice which is designed for use by those who provide internet services used by children, for example Facebook and Microsoft.
The advice has a section on “sharing” information, which explains the impact that sharing an image can have, such as losing control and ownership of it. Organisations such as Facebook and Microsoft, which are engaged with UKCCIS, ensure that the messages they carry on their services are in line with this advice so that whichever service young people use, they receive clear and consistent messages about positive online behaviour and what to do if they need help.
Tim also said that he wanted to see more mobile phone operators and retailers issuing child-parent friendly leaflets on the dangers of sexting and safe internet use and that the government will be encouraging them to play a greater part in publicising the dangers of sexting.
The debate can be accesses via the following link http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201212/cmhansrd/cm120425/halltext/120425h0001.htm#12042537000230