Thinking critically about pornography, healthy relationships and body image online

  • Awareness
  • 28/05/2019
  • UK Safer Internet Centre

Kate Edwards, a former teacher and current Education and Safeguarding Manager at Childnet, looks at Childnet's brand new resource for children aged 11-14, targeting online pornography, healthy relationships and body image online.

"At Childnet, we have just launched new resources as part of our work in the UK Safer Internet Centre, covering the issues of pornography, healthy relationships and body image online.

"As a former teacher, and as someone who is in schools regularly delivering online safety sessions to educators, young people, parents and carers, I know first-hand the importance of these topics and the impact they have on young people.

"We recently carried out research with 11-14 year olds and found that whilst 80 per cent of 11-14s surveyed by Childnet said it was important or extremely important for young people to discuss the issues related to online pornography, only 15 per cent said they knew where to go to find reliable information about sex and relationships. After taking part in the activities, 77 per cent of those surveyed felt they knew where to go to find reliable information about sex and relationships.

"I also know that many teachers and schools may not feel properly equipped to deliver sessions on such complex issues. In our recent ‘PSHE and RSE in the digital age' consultation we found that staff reported not having enough training or confidence to deliver the online aspects of PSHE and RSE, especially when it came to teaching about online pornography.

"With age-verification for pornography being introduced in the UK in July 2019, it will be harder for young people to accidentally come across online pornography. However, we know that conversations with young people, parents and carers and teachers are paramount to giving children the information, support and skills that they need when it comes to issues such as pornography.

The Myth vs Reality Toolkit

"Talking to young people about their lives online is vital and education has a major part to play here. We need to ensure all young people are given a platform to discuss the pressures they face online and have the skills to spot and understand the gap between perception and reality online.

"Our new toolkit, called ‘Myth vs reality', is the second phase of our practical PSHE toolkit for secondary school educators – the first, ‘Crossing the Line', launched in 2016. We have designed these resources as a great way to help spark discussion among young people about their experiences online.

"Before creating this toolkit, we spoke to young people about the issues that they thought were having the biggest impact on their lives and that they needed education on. This toolkit covers some of these key topics such as pornography, healthy relationships, and body image; looking at how all three of these topics connect together. We used this toolkit as an opportunity to explore key online myths and give teachers the tools they need to support their pupils to challenge the myths they are seeing and experiencing online.

"The toolkit has been tested in seven schools across the UK where both teachers and pupils tried out the resources and provided feedback about the impact it had had in their school.

"Research was conducted with young people aged 11-14 before they completed the toolkit, providing over 600 responses:

  • 80 per cent said it was important or extremely important for young people to discuss the issues related to online pornography, but only 15 per cent said they knew where to go to find reliable information about sex and relationships.
  • Only 23 per cent said that they could recognise the difference between what is considered the ‘ideal' body image online and the reality of a realistic and healthy body.
  • Only 23 per cent said that they knew what makes a healthy relationship online.

"After taking part in the activities in the toolkit, young people aged 11-14 reported on the impact that it had, with over 450 responses. Schools saw an increase in confidence and knowledge of the issues in the toolkit:

  • 90 per cent said they now felt confident in supporting themselves and others with the issues related to online pornography.
  • 77 per cent said they know where to go to find reliable information about sex and relationships.
  • 69 per cent said the lessons made them feel more confident in supporting their friends online when it came to issues around body image.
  • 59 per cent felt confident in supporting themselves and others with unhealthy relationships online.


What is in the toolkit

"I have seen the impact that videos can have on the young people we work with, they spark discussion and help them visualise how issues could affect them and other people their age. The toolkit uses a set of talking heads films as a spring board for discussion, and allows young people to discuss these complex issues in a safe and supportive environment which does not require them to speak from personal experiences.  These films were directly shaped by young people and cover a range of opinions and experiences, allowing young people themselves to discuss, challenge and think critically about the ideas and thoughts that are presented to them.

"Through discussion and activities, this toolkit not only challenges young people to reflect on young people's online experiences and behaviour and unpick the truth from online myths, but also ensures that they know who to go to and how to get support if some aspects of their own online lives worry them.

How educators can use the toolkit

"This toolkit has been designed to suit the needs of different educators. Educators can be selective in the activities they use according to their PSHE timetable. Whether they have a 40-minute PSHE lesson, or 15 minutes in tutor time, there are different aspects of this toolkit that can be used to fit into the allocated time.

"We have produced guidance for educators within the toolkit to help schools prepare for using the resource, including guidance on handling disclosures and delivering the toolkit as part of staff training. There is also specific guidance for faith schools, with tips for handling sensitive and controversial topics, and extra information about informing parents and carers about the content of the lessons.

"To help educators to deliver the Myth vs Reality toolkit, we have also produced three videos discussing the key topics covered in the lessons. These videos can be viewed by educators prior to delivering the lessons to help build confidence and knowledge in those delivering the Myth vs Reality lessons."

You can view the videos on the Childnet website and access the full resources at childnet.com/myth-vs-reality

Find out more information about the work of the UK Safer Internet Centre (SIC) generally, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services, or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.


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