School vs Online relationships & sex education

Spoiler: the answer is both!

There is a lot of media buzz today around a warning issued by major charities that the planned Governmental overhaul of relationships and sex education will fail unless young people can access trusted information online. As specialists in using a range of communications methods to achieve positive behaviour change amongst young people on sensitive health and social issues, team eskimosoup support this call and have the research to back this up.

Yesterday, I was contacted by the news reporter at Viking FM to comment on a new piece they are putting out. Ever an astute professional; the reporter (hi Natalie!) asked how I knew that young people wanted to access further information online about sex relationships that complemented the work done in schools.

As campaign director for Not in our community; a regional campaign that helps young people protect their friends against grooming and sexual exploitation we can see that engagements with the stories we share through all main social media channels used by our target audience receive much higher levels of engagement when it mirrors the work done in schools. For example, in one local authority where our campaign messages and online materials are used as part of an educational rollout have seen unique engagement rate (interaction with our online materials) as high as 34% of the population of 13 to 17 year olds in that area. Comparatively, in areas where the campaign exists online only the typical figure is around 20%.

These figures really add up when it comes prevention work around something that can be as devastating as sexual exploitation. When you consider that overall brand awareness of Not in our community in the four local authority areas in which we operated is 78% amongst young people and that of these 49% say that the campaign has helped them in a real situation, the difference could be between a child being safe or becoming victim to a most heinous crime.

As someone who runs social media campaigns aimed at helping young people, I’ll often state that social media campaigns in isolation will rarely be the answer. Equally, by heaping more pressure on stretched schools to equip young people on another complex issue has its limitations around capacity, learning style, embarrassment, interactive learning opportunities and not least, if a child is absent from school would this mean that they miss out completely?

Personally, I’m an advocate for using approved and tested learning methods in schools supported by additional approved and tested materials online. This affords young people 24/7 access to information and gives them an opportunity for learning in a private setting, at their own pace, in line with their experiences with sex and relationships develop. Provided information is responsible and that in cases, such as sexual abuse, it is clear what the options for further support are, its ethically sound and I’d rather my children explore information through this route than the vast abyss of unverified information out there; we know from additional research that that is a cause of concern amongst young people too who are seeking out a source that they can trust and communicates on their level.

On that note; let’s not do that through a flashy website that tries to be cool and that hasn’t been properly co-produced with young people; that won’t work. We ought remember too that there are great opportunities to provide information and lessons tailored to the native style of media such as Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube and even Facebook still has a key role to play amongst younger audiences.

Further information about this news story is available here:

Oh and a final hurrah that this covers relationships rather than purely the physiological aspects of sex. The work we do with young people suggests that whilst there is a good understanding of things such as condoms and the physical aspects of puberty, there is a big gap when it comes to understanding how to be a good boyfriend or girlfriend. I hope this movement gains pace and look forward to watching the ongoing consultation to make sure that we get this right!

John Gilbert, Managing Director, eskimosoup

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