NHS watch­dog is­sues sex­ting ad­vice

Malta Independent - - HEALTH -

An NHS watch­dog has is­sued ad­vice about sex­ting to help pro­fes­sion­als spot the dif­fer­ence between “nor­mal” sex­ual ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and harm­ful sex­ual be­hav­iour among chil­dren and teens.

Sex­ting (send­ing ex­plicit mes­sages or im­ages via text) is a worry and must be mon­i­tored, says the UK Na­tional In­sti­tute for Health and Care Ex­cel­lence.

It says not enough is known about the im­pact on young minds.

Teach­ers, doc­tors and so­cial work­ers must judge ap­pro­pri­ate­ness for age.

In­ap­pro­pri­ate sex­u­alised be­hav­iour, which can in­clude sex­ting, is of­ten an ex­pres­sion of prob­lems or un­der­ly­ing vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties, says NICE.

The guide­lines sug­gest pro­fes­sion­als use re­sources such as the Brook Sex­ual Be­hav­iours Traf­fic Light Tool to help gauge the sever­ity of the be­hav­iour - ac­tions listed as red in­di­cate likely harm, while those in green are viewed as part of nor­mal grow­ing up.

Sex­ting is given an am­ber traf­fic light, as is mes­sag­ing sex­ual im­ages of a per­son, even if they have given their con­sent.

Am­ber warn­ing signs among much younger chil­dren in­clude the use of sex­ual themes in language and play.

Dr Ab­dul­lah Kraam, a con­sul­tant child and ado­les­cent psy­chi­a­trist, helped write the NICE guide­lines.

He said the guid­ance was timely given the growth in on­line groom­ing and pornog­ra­phy.

“The ad­vice is use­ful. It gives peo­ple some idea as to whether a child’s be­hav­iour is con­cern­ing or not.

“Some things will be ob­vi­ous, but other be­hav­iours may be harder to judge. There are grey ar­eas.”

If in doubt, he says it is best to “re­fer it up to the ex­perts”.

Jon Brown, of the child pro­tec­tion char­ity the NSPCC, said it was im­por­tant not to la­bel chil­dren as mini sex of­fend­ers: “Steps to change be­hav­iour will only be ef­fec­tive if the fam­ily and sup­port net­work un­der­stand there is an is­sue and are sup­port­ive.”

Pro­fes­sor Gil­lian Leng, deputy chief ex­ec­u­tive of NICE, said: “In­quis­i­tive be­hav­iour is a nor­mal part of grow­ing up and it is nat­u­ral for chil­dren to ask about dif­fer­ent body parts or be cu­ri­ous about the dif­fer­ences between girls and boys.

“How­ever there is also a mi­nor­ity of chil­dren and young peo­ple who en­gage in sex­ual be­hav­iour that is not ap­pro­pri­ate for their age or de­vel­op­ment.

“This guid­ance is about pre­par­ing teach­ers, nurses, so­cial work­ers and oth­ers to recog­nise harm­ful sex­ual be­hav­iour when it oc­curs and en­sure they can work across team bound­aries, so that prob­lem be­hav­iour is not ig­nored or missed and chil­dren and young peo­ple re­ceive the help they need.”

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