Leader: ‘Parents must be the first line of defence’

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THE idea of girls as young as 12 being pressurised into taking explicit photographs of themselves to send to their boyfriends on their mobile phones will horrify every parent.

That is not only happening, but happening more and more often, according to NSPCC Scotland, which is often around to help pick up the pieces afterwards.

There is nothing new, of course, in warning about the dangers that young people face when using 
mobile phones, tablets and other online-enabled devices.

But the nature of some of the risks is altering as new fashions and technologies change the way young people behave. “Sexting”, for instance, is being linked to the proliferation of online pornography, with experts saying X-rated images are now so common that young people are less likely to think twice about posting naked pictures of themselves.

While this fast-changing world can be exciting to children, it can be bewildering for parents. How many are surprised at how widespread “sexting” has become? Are there others prepared to admit they did not know what “sexting” meant?

But even among those who would claim to be “tech savvy” there can be a yawning gap between what parent and their children know. Most teenagers would laugh at adults whose knowledge of social media stretches no further than Facebook or Twitter.

City schools are rightly taking a lead in working with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre to educate children about the risks they face. It is right that children are warned and teachers can look out for warning signs that something is amiss.

But it is parents who must take more responsibility for what their children see and do when they are online. They are the ones who usually pay for phones, who set parental controls and who can monitor what their children are doing. When it comes to protecting our children online, parents must provide the first line of defence.