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The Body Image Issue: Can a Holistic Approach Safeguard Young People Online?

3 minute read
By Smoothwall

Five years on from its initial launch, Sport England has revamped it’s This Girl Can campaign. This time, calling on brands, media and influencers to showcase more diverse imagery of women.

It’s an important message. Indeed, Sport England’s research found that 63% of women who see slim, toned bodies on social media are impacted negatively. A quarter also stated that the fitness influencers they follow make them feel bad about themselves.

The campaign definitely strikes a chord. In today’s climate of ‘always on’ social media, the pressure of body image has never been more prevalent. Even more so for teenagers and school children. In fact, research by YMCA found that 62% of 15 to 16-year-olds felt social media had ramped up expectations over their personal appearance.

But is this campaign enough on its own? Smoothwall’s online safety expert, Adele Abbiss, explains why an holistic approach is needed to combat the issue.

The body image issue 

In Smoothwall’s own research, one-in-five school girls admitted to feeling ugly as a result of social media. And 15% reported feeling bad about their body as a result. Even more concerning, 11% of school children have not wanted to eat after using social media.

It’s a concern that is shared by headteachers and schools too. Our research shows eating disorders is the biggest negative issue impacting children, with 71% of head teachers facing the issue every week.

Body image and mental health issues are widely believed to go hand in hand. With unobtainable beauty standards being showcased to young minds online, identifying and supporting those most at risk has never been more important.

Safeguarding – a holistic approach

While there are mounting pressures on social media firms to combat harmful content on their platforms, it’s important that the buck does not stop with these companies alone. Instead, this must be a shared responsibility. Schools, teachers, parents, organisations, councils, local authorities, and technology providers, must work together to safeguard children at every possible touch point.

Young people must be educated both at home and in schools about what constitutes harmful content and how to navigate the internet safely. Meanwhile, technology providers and social media firms must play their part in preventing young people from accessing potentially harmful material.

This holistic approach also includes digital safeguarding in schools. In particular, the use of web filtering and digital monitoring. By investing in an effective web filter, schools can block dangerous material, whilst proactive monitoring solutions allow schools to identify vulnerable users who may otherwise slip through the net.

Web filtering in schools

Early warning signs that a student is at risk are often exhibited through their use of technology. Young people frequently turn to chat rooms, forums and internet searches to express their feelings. This means that web filtering for schools play a crucial role in preventing students from accessing potentially harmful material.

Rather than relying on block lists that can quickly become out-dated, a school’s web filtering system should also be agile, ensuing emerging threats are identified.

A ‘content aware’ web filter that works in real time checks web pages for suitability before it appears on a students screen. This means that appropriate content is still shown, whereas anything that could be seen as dangerous will be blocked by the web filter.

These filters also have no delay between potentially new harmful content going live on the internet and it being blocked from pupils. This dramatically reduces the amount of dangerous content students are exposed to.

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