A 14 year-old boy has got a police record after sexting a 14 year-old girl in his class. Although he wasn’t charged the crime of ‘making an indecent image of a child’ will remain on his record for 10 years, potentially affecting his future employment choices.
It is a sad story with no one really to blame, but one that exemplifies the clash of young people’s digital life with the real world. It is a mystery to many adults why many young people want to live their lives so publically online. Yet young people are expected to understand all things digital and adapt to technology like ducks to water. They are actively encouraged towards technology, in part to help fill the yawning digital skills gap that the UK economy is suffering from. Adults need to ensure that understanding the implications of that technology is also part of their education.
It is ironic that had that 14 year-old been an adult he would have been protected by ‘revenge porn’ laws, as the victim rather than the perpetrator. Surely it can’t be right to give young people less protection than consenting adults?
Schools need to use PSHE to talk about these real life examples to students. It seems a shame that the school in question doesn’t seem to have taken this route, or that as well as a school based police officer, they hadn’t employed the skills of a youth worker, who could have highlighted these kind of ‘awkward’ discussions that young people might not want to have with their teachers.
The public nature of young people’s digital life is not all negatives for law and order. Alcohol intake has dropped amongst young people and they are binge drinking less and taking illegal drugs less. This has been linked to the prevalence of social media and concerns over being ‘shamed’ – having your image in a drunk and incoherent state pasted online for all your friends to see. Given that it was only a few years ago that the media was reporting that town centres on Saturday nights were lawless no-go zones, this is quite a turnaround.
Our appetite for all things digital is only likely to grow and young people have amazing capacity to understand and adopt it into their lives, far more easily than most adults. But despite being digital natives they still need the support of adults to employ it in a way that doesn’t harm themselves or others. A ten year record is a harsh way to find that out.