On 7th November 2017, the House of Lords debated a motion from Lord Best, ‘That this House takes note of the Report from the Communications Committee, Growing up with the internet.’ The Bishop of Gloucester, Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, spoke in the debate, which was also reported in the Telegraph newspaper.
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am very grateful to the Select Committee for this report, and I agree with so much that has been said already. So many young people today source their identities from social media and internet advertising, which has resulted in low self-esteem and poor mental health. Over the last 18 months or so, I have been spearheading a campaign called Liedentity, which is focused around body image and challenging the lie that our value comes from our physical appearance.
I have had the privilege of meeting young people in primary and secondary schools in Gloucestershire, and much of what I have heard from them resonates with the recommendations of this report. As the report highlights, children live in a world where being online is interwoven with every aspect of their everyday lives, and young people do not want discussion about the internet always to begin from an angle of prohibition. It is undoubtedly good that there is a clear commitment to keep children and young people safe online. We need child-centred design, a code of practice and adequate procedures, but all that must sit within a wider context of human flourishing and human relationship.
I was glad to read the recommendations on digital literacy, which is placed within relationships education at primary level and PSHE at secondary level. This is about much more than a safety agenda. During a session with some sixth-formers recently at Stroud High School, I was struck by some of the girls’ reflections on the use of certain social media sites. They had absorbed the message that all life is made up of perfect sunsets, classically beautiful bodies and constant smiling. This had resulted in a feeling that their lives were 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 their joy in an honest and deeper way, in places of both agreement and disagreement.
I hope there will be a children’s digital champion, and that that person will keep human relationship as the large canvas when working with others, not least the Department for Education. In the diocese of Gloucester we have been working with a branding and innovation agency spearheaded by Marksteen Adamson, which 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 then take photos of one another in a way that reflects something of what they have heard in the other person. An exhibition of Peel was held recently during London Fashion Week, and it was poignant to hear the young people reflect on their experience of participating, amid the culture of the selfie, in the self-awareness and awareness of the other person before taking the photograph. We are now working on a format that can be used by schools in a forum such as PSHE alongside digital literacy, and there is already a lot of interest.
I want to underline a key point that resonates with the report: ensuring that proposals and initiatives remain child-centred and young-person-centred. I have found again and again that young people want to be involved with identifying the solutions. They want to work with adults, not to be told by adults. So I am delighted to see that the government response contains a commitment to round-table discussions with children as part of the online-safety consultation. In one of my recent 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 relive 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 that is detrimental to their well-being.
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.
Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab)…One of those values is something that arose from the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, about the centrality to our ability to live fulfilled lives of direct human contact and relationships. When I walk down the street, I see groups of young people who are physically together, but every single one is looking at his or her phone. I cannot help but think, “Why are you doing that? What on your phone is so much more beguiling than the person next to you who is your friend?”.
Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen (Con) [Minister]...The Internet Safety Strategy outlines the crucial role that education will play in improving children’s safety online and the importance of digital literacy, which was brought up in speeches by the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester. We want to help children successfully manage online risks throughout their lives. DCMS will work with the Department for Education to ensure that online safety forms part of the new compulsory relationships education in primary schools and relationships and sex education in secondary schools, as well as personal, social, health and economic education if it is made compulsory.
We plan to hold a children’s round table better to understand their concerns about online safety. We also plan to hold focus groups with children so they can share their views of online safety. The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester said it was important to encourage peer-to-peer safety online programmes. We are very keen to do that, recognising the positive impact these can have on young people….
…The noble Baronesses, Lady Kidron and Lady Benjamin, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester all referred to the children’s digital champion. The Minister for Digital is responsible for all digital matters in government and will work with ministerial colleagues across government and with a range of stakeholders, including the UK Council for Internet Safety, to keep children and young people safe online.