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New Children’s Commissioner guide for parents on discussing sexual harassment

16 December 2021

Sex Education Forum  response, 16 December 2021

Today, the Children’s Commissioner for England has published an innovative and much-needed guide for parents and carers to have discussions with their children about online sexual harassment. The guide, which is in part built upon the experiences and voices of young people, provides adults with practical advice on how to navigate discussions with their own children. The Sex Education Forum has today welcomed this new guide and called for the Department for Education to ensure it is widely shared with schools and gets in the hands of parents and carers across the country.

Lucy Emmerson, Chief Executive of Sex Education Forum, said: ‘This is a most timely resource and comes at the end of a year where issues relating to sexual harassment and abuse in particular of young women, have been thrown into sharp focus. Young people have told us they want information about healthy relationships but often these conversations start too late or are even missed altogether. This resource should be used to help guide parents and carers in initiating more frequent and open dialogue with their children and lists sources of additional support with issues relating to sexual harassment, which unfortunately continues to be a live issue.

‘The delivery of statutory Relationships and Sex Education in all secondary schools in England and statutory Relationships Education in primary schools is an essential tool to address sexual harassment but this must go hand-in-hand with supporting parents and carers to have regular conversations with their children about these real-world issues that impact the lives of many young people. The use of smartphones and the internet are part of everyday life, so it’s important to make a link between what’s taught in the classroom and discussions at home, to help further embed the values of consent and respect and to anticipate the sort of challenges that children may face and develop skills and strategies to deal with them. 

‘Children and young people are clear that they want discussions with reliable adults, especially their parents. Through regular conversations, parents and carers can signal to their children that they are available to listen and support and can build an understanding of consent, their bodies, how they change during puberty, the importance of not pressuring others and their values for healthy relationships. Boys, even more so than girls, comment that parents, and particularly dads, often fail to talk with them about relationships and sex, so being mindful of gender and our shared responsibilities to educate children is important. We know from research evidence on RSE that the best approach is to start these conversations early and have them often, in an environment that is supportive and caring.

‘I applaud the leadership shown by the Children’s Commissioner in providing this practical support and advice for parents and carers, which is informed by young people themselves. This underlines the clear gap in the provision of this type of resource and it needs to mark the start of more national support of this kind, which should be backed by Government. Young people and families want this support, now Ministers must deliver.’


Further information 

- The new guide 'Talking to your children about online sexual harassment' is available from the Office of the Children's Commissioner. 

- A research report 'Understanding and combatting youth experiences of image-based sexual harassment and abuse' was published 6 December 2021 from UCL, ASCL, School of Sexuality Education - available from ASCL  

- 'Teaching about gender, power and consent' is a Sex Education Forum webinar for educators, next available 13 January 2021 

- Members can access further guidance and activities for parental engagement with RSE from our Resources