On Tuesday 6th February, MSPs debated the important issue of encouraging cyber resilience amongst young people.

As reported in the Irvine Times this week, so-called ‘sexting’ has led to a substantial rise in the recorded number of sexual assaults across North Ayrshire.

And shocking recent figures from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service of Scotland show that the number of children reported to prosecutors for sexual offences has risen by 21% in four years – and that the number of reported cases involving a child committing a sexual offence against another increased by 34% over the same period.

One of the main reasons for this increase in sexual offences amongst children is ‘sexting’, highlighting the need to encourage increased awareness of the potential career consequences, legal implications and bullying and mental health repercussions of such behaviour.

The Young Scot ‘Digi, Aye?’ programme is already addressing some of these issues, providing young people with information on topics ranging from how to remove unwanted images from social media to guidance on ‘spring cleaning’ social media accounts.

In her contribution to the debate, SNP MSP for Cunninghame South, Ruth Maguire, highlighted the importance of understanding young people in order to best support them to deal with online dangers and pressures, citing the insight into the teenage brain provided by neuroscience.

Speaking, Ruth said:

“Recent research into the teenage brain has shown that there is heightened risk taking during adolescence; and, at the same time, the influence of peer pressure peaks. That is quite a combination, and thinking about it can help us to understand why our young people sometimes take risks that most of us would find utterly terrifying and would never think of taking.

“In the context of viewing, sexting and sharing intimate images, it helps to understand the pressures that our young people are dealing with. If they are seen as something that everyone else is doing and if they are presented as a normal part of a relationship and as validating, the pressure on young people must be immense. When, at the same time, the area of the brain that is associated with self-regulation and judgment is still developing, teenagers are prone to taking risks.

“It seems to me that our emphasising the career consequences, legal implications, potential for bullying and mental health repercussions alone will not do what we want it to do.

“Rather, we should work with young people themselves and really listen to what they tell us will help to keep them safe, well and happy.

“Following the debate, MSPs were shown two short films produced by students at North East Scotland College in conjunction with Young Scot’s ‘Digi, Aye?’ campaign.

“The films powerfully depict the dangers of intimate image sharing on social media and is a good example of young people raising awareness of the dangers of sexting from their own perspective and in a way that works for them.”