Growing up with the internet:
My Lords I am very grateful to the Select Committee for producing this report.
So many young people today are sourcing their identities from social media and internet advertising, resulting in low self-esteem and poor mental health; and over the last 18 months I have been spearheading a campaign called Liedentity which is focused around body image, and challenging the lie that our value comes from physical appearance.
I’ve had the privilege of meeting with young people in both primary and secondary schools in Gloucestershire, and much of what I have heard resonates with the recommendations in the select committee report.
As the report highlights, children live in a world where being online is interwoven into every aspect of their everyday lives. And young people don’t want discussion about the internet always beginning from an angle of prohibition.
It’s undoubtedly good that there is a clear commitment to keep children and young people safe online. We do indeed need child-centred design, a code of practice and adequate procedures – But all of that must sit within a much wider context which is about human flourishing and healthy relationship.
I was glad to read the recommendations on digital literacy and its place within Relationships Education (at primary level) and in PHSE at secondary level (Personal Social Health and Economic education). And this is about much more than a safety agenda:
During a session with some sixth formers at Stroud High School, I was struck by some of the girls’ reflections on the use of certain social media sites: They had absorbed a message that life is made up of perfect sunsets, classically beautiful bodies, and constant smiling. This had resulted in feelings of their lives being inadequate, and it was only in face-to-face discussion with their peers that myths were dispelled and they were able to talk about the struggles of their lives (as well as joy) in an honest and deeper way – both in places of agreement and disagreement.
So, I hope there will be a Children’s Digital Champion or Minister who will commit to keep human relationship as the large canvas when working with others, not least, the Department of Education.
In the Diocese of Gloucester we have been working with a branding & innovation agency spearheaded by Marksteen Adamson who has developed a wonderful resource called Peel (as in peel back). The programme involves young people listening to one another face-to-face, before they take photos of one another in a way that reflects something of what they’ve heard about each other.
An exhibition of PEEL was held during London fashion week and it was poignant to hear the young people reflect on their experience of participating: In a culture of the selfie the self-awareness and awareness of the other person is coming before the visual image is produced. We are now working on a format which can be used by schools in a forum such as PHSE alongside digital literacy – and there is already a lot of interest.
The other key point I’d like to underline which resonates with the report is that of ensuring that proposals and initiatives remain child-centred (young person centred):
I have found that young people want to be involved with identifying the solutions. They want to work with adults and not be told by adults. So I am delighted to see that in the government response there is a commitment to round-table discussion with children as part of the safety-online consultation.
In one of my sessions a sixth former spoke forcefully about informing her parents what they could and could not let her younger sister access on the Internet. She knew what had been detrimental to her own mental health and was determined that her younger sister was not going to re-live her experiences.
Furthermore, as the report has highlighted, young people themselves are often the first to know when something is unhelpful and they need to be able to have control over the removal of material which is detrimental to their well-being.
So that brings me back to my gratitude for this report and my hope that it will play a significant role in enabling young people to flourish and nurture healthy relationships as they grow up in a world where the internet is a key part of the landscape.