Former Norfolk schools chief urges parents to talk about porn ‘early’

Children's commissioner Rachel de Souza.

Children's commissioner Rachel de Souza. - Credit: Tom Barnes

The former head of a Norfolk academy trust has urged parents to start talking to children as young as nine about online sexual harassment and pornography.

Dame Rachel de Souza, the children’s commissioner for England, formerly head of the Inspiration Trust, which has 14 schools in Norfolk and Suffolk, said said parents should broach these challenging topics before children have smartphones or social media accounts. 

Dame Rachel said: "You might be surprised how early our young people felt parents need to start the conversation. But kids want an age-appropriate conversation that evolves over time in line with their growing maturity.

"My advice to parents and carers is to create the culture before the crisis.”

The Office of the Children's Commissioner for England has produced a guide for parents on how to discuss sexualised bullying and peer-on-peer abuse online.

It advises parents to start conversations "early" - typically children get a phone or start interacting on social media aged around nine or 10 - and to keep the conversation going to ensure "awkwardness" or "taboo" subjects do not build.

The guide was produced with help of teenagers and young adults with thousands of young women having shared their experiences of sexual harassment.

The NSPCC has issued advice on parental control over internet use by children (stock image) Picture

Parents are urged to start talking to children about online sexual harassment and pornography before they have smartphones or social media accounts. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Dame Rachel, formerly principal of Ormiston Victory Academy in Costessey, said girls ‑ who are still mostly in school – had described growing up in a world where harassment, including sexualised comments, slut‑shaming and the sharing of nude pictures, was part of their everyday lives.

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“This harmful behaviour happens online and offline,” she said in an introduction to the guide.

“I’ve seen this first‑hand during my time as a headteacher and I know how stressful and damaging it can be for children, especially girls.

“Of course, boys can experience sexualised bullying too, and when they do it’s often in the form of homophobic abuse, or through pressure to be more ‘masculine’.”

Cover of guide

The children's commissioner has produced a guide for parents on how to discuss sexualised bullying and online abuse. - Credit: Office of the Children's Commissioner for England

Parents should not "jump to conclusions" if they find out their child has sent or received nudes and they should "calmly" speak to their child to try to understand why the image or video was shared, according to the guide.

It suggests that parents should start speaking to their child about the "risks of sharing pictures" when they first give them a phone and they should explain to their child "early on" that they might be sent naked pictures.

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