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Postcards from the edge of media

I’ve spent a large part of the last few weeks asking School Principals, PSHE teachers and youth workers what kind of images and language they consider acceptable in youth media.

We have recently seen some pretty challenging designs put forward by government and charities and it’s tempting to make snap judgements on displaying shocking images where they will be seen by young people.
Beat Bullying recently used a very graphic poster image of a teenager with a sewn-up mouth to show how bullying victims often suffer in silence and to guide them to their Cyber Mentors website.

This had already been turned down by some broadcast media, but hundreds of our affiliated schools and youth centres were happy to display it. Bullying is a massively important issue, but one that can often be difficult to talk about; these posters provoked a huge amount of discussion between teachers and youth workers and the young people in their care.
Having said that, all the schools and youth centres we work with obviously make the final decision on what to display, and while the vast majority were very positive about the Beat Bullying poster, some did feel that it wouldn’t be appropriate for them. One club even described it as “like something from a horror movie”.

So, when we were asked for our opinion on the draft design shown here (part of the Home Office campaigns to prevent violence against women and girls and abuse in teenage relationships), rather than reject it out of hand beacause of its wording, we asked over 250 of our member schools and clubs what they thought.

We were really impressed by the results!

Not only did half of our feedback applaud the wording as realistic, another 14% felt that it wasn’t strong enough, with many suggesting some quite colourful alternatives! Of the remainder, most said they would accept it if “Tart” were used instead; very few rejected the material altogether.

Eventually, the authorised version which the Home Office settled on used “Frigid”, which is still very direct and hopefully the campaign will be highly effective.  There is also a webpage on the DirectGov site here.

The most interesting result of our consultation was to show that many teachers and youth workers are very confident in the ability of young people to cope with strong copy when it is presented in a controlled environment.

This, from Tony Leggett, Bursar of Collingwood College, was a typical response:

“Even our youngest students are exposed to images as challenging as this on a regular basis and we have (also) been content to display the bullying image of the girl with stitched mouth as these are issues we address in PSHE.”

The adult world is full of branding and the hard sell. We believe that responsible advertising to young people, even with very direct messages, will help accustom them to making independent decisions about other media. Challenging content is an integral part of this, and has nothing to do with the current political debate on sexual imagery in the media.

Aiming sexual imagery at children (and promoting unhealthy food) should be as unacceptable as glamourising smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol in youth media already is. Using appropriate media to carry thought-provoking messages is only going to help young people negotiate the marketing landscape in the wider world. Doing so in schools and youth clubs, where mentors are on hand to talk through the issues raised, is not only very effective; it is also a much better environment to tackle difficult issues than the relative free-for-all of the internet.

As Freddie White, Deputy Headmaster of Lincoln Christ’s Hospital School, succinctly put it:

“We aim to reflect society as it is, to try to educate our students for the real world rather than a fantasy one!”

One Comment

  1. Nicky Smith says:

    These are such powerful and effective images; well done TenNine for giving schools and colleges the opportunity to describe the considerate and caring way they try to help their students.
    When you combine this with the article in the Times today about how teachers have to watch children’s lives fall apart, it makes you realise how much help we need to give.

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