Girls’ school head warns of rise of the ‘screenager’

Charlotte Avery, president of the Girls’ Schools Association, believes children are being robbed of their childhood by inappropriate content on their phones

Web giants should filter out pornography on smartphones to protect ‘screenagers’ from the ‘wild west’ of the internet, a leading headmistress has claimed.

Charlotte Avery, president of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA) warned that modern childhood is in danger of being eroded by easy access to ‘inappropriate’ content online.

While modern technology has made societies more ‘widely connected’ and ‘better informed’ than ever before, there is also a ‘moral imperative’ for web companies to tackle the ‘dark side’ of the internet.

Ms Avery, 47, who is headmistress of St Mary’s School, Cambridge, said parents need additional help to tackle the ‘worrying’ issue of online porn.

Speaking ahead of the GSA annual conference in Manchester, she said that schools can only do so much to protect pupils from online content and called for tighter filter controls on smartphones.

She said: ‘I think that some parents have not grown up with the phones and a lot of parents are not even aware of basic filters.

‘This is what I mean about schools trying to do their part and web companies actually putting these filters in as an automatic as opposed to thinking that parents have got to go online and set up these filters.

‘It’s very easy to bypass filters and I think that a lot of parents don’t know what they should be doing.

‘I think it’s also beholden on these companies to, for example, get out advertising campaigns and work very closely with parents, maybe around national days, aimed at internet safety day or anti bullying week.’

She warned that explicit content is widely reported to be just ‘three clicks away’ for children surfing online.

Ms Avery, who is head of St Mary's School, Cambridge, said web giants have a moral duty to protect children from material like online pornography

Ms Avery, who is head of St Mary’s School, Cambridge, said web giants have a moral duty to protect children from material like online pornography

‘I think that for young people who are beginning to explore their sexuality, the fact that they seem to think that what they see online is real and it’s not, and it’s the distortion of the norm, distortion of body, for a particular end which is unhelpful,’ she said.

‘I also think that when they see things like a ready access to pornography it then makes things like sexting seem very, very trivial, and of course, that’s not trivial either.

‘It’s about trying to engage with them as young people, talking about healthy relationships and the dignity of the human body as opposed to the indignity.’

She will tell the conference today (mon) that ‘there is less childhood but more adolescence’ in modern society.

Ms Avery will say: ‘The children of today are different. ‘Screenagers’ are fearless in the face of the digital bombardment.’

Referring to the smartphone, she adds: ‘It’s here and it’s an enormously powerful tool for learning – we need to encourage the proper and creative use of this technology.

‘New information technologies have made our societies more widely connected, more affluent, and better informed; but they have also encroached on our personal lives in ways that few could have anticipated, made us more inward-looking while simultaneously eroding public trust, and left us exposed to extremist views.’

Meanwhile, pupils at Eton College have been banned from using smartphones, laptops and tablets in their rooms after bedtime because of fears their addiction to social media is leaving them sleep-deprived.

The £38,700-a-year boarding school has told all 13-year-olds to hand over their electronic devices to their housemasters before they go to bed at 9.30pm.

The measure was introduced by head master Simon Henderson, who said lost sleep could harm pupil’s ability to concentrate in lessons and, damage academic performance.