Sexting, relationships, teenagers – and the law

Creating engaging educational projects for teenagers is a challenge. But filmmaker Suzanne Cohen could have the answer.
24 May 2016

What does sexual consent mean to you? Do you know what a healthy relationship looks like? How much do you know about sex and the law?

These are very important questions for us all, but what happens when teenagers ask their peers these questions?

Last summer filmmaker Suzanne Cohen decided to find out with help from young people taking part in the Central YMCA’s Young Health Champions project. After meeting some of them, she knew she had the potential to create a powerful film. One that looks into issues facing teenagers today – and also provide important insights for us all.

The result was ‘Young People, Relationships and the Law’ (dir. Suzanne Cohen).  

Young people are grappling with complex challenges brought about by new technology and mobile devices. The scary thing is that these challenges are hard to keep up with, let alone control.

Back on 3 September 2015 a BBC Today programme covered the story of a 14-year-old boy who faced prosecution for “making and distributing an indecent image of a child”. It is an image of the boy himself, taken on his mobile phone and sent to a girl he knows. He had no idea he was breaking the law. But he is not alone.

Most young people who treat ‘sexting’ as the new ‘flirting’ have no idea that they could potentially face criminal charges.

So how do we, as a society, begin to educate young people about these issues when technology is at their fingertips, and the law seems a million miles removed from the immediacy of Instagram or Snapchat?

Creating a relevant project with teenagers – one that engages them on questions of relationships, sexual consent, and ‘sexting’ – is no mean feat. But this is exactly the task that Laura Walsh, Youth Programme Manager at Central YMCA took on.

In September 2014, Laura was behind YMCA England’s signature Young Health Champions project. It aimed to engage, educate and empower young people on the subjects of mental health, sexual health, physical health, as well as drugs and alcohol – not to mention enable them to become youth health trainers themselves.

Most young people who treat ‘sexting’ as the new ‘flirting’ have no idea that they could potentially face criminal charges.

At Central YMCA, our Young Health Champions programme, which focuses on the main health issues facing young people, has also produced outstanding results for the young teenagers involved the partner organisations who have assisted, and for the young people who are now benefitting from the open discussions that the project has initiated.

Through the Young Health Champions project, the Central YMCA has started, and must be enabled to continue to empower our young people to ask pressing questions that are relevant to their health and wellbeing.  

We also need to ensure that the funding for this vital project is successful, if we are to show that we, as a society, are willing to listen to their answers.

Their answers are potentially life-changing for us all.

Central YMCA would like to thank all those involved in both the Young Health Champions project, and the short film, which powerfully demonstrates the importance and relevance of the young people’s work.

Partners involved include Brandon Centre, Brook, Camden Summer University (CSU), Camden Council, Dragon Hall, Fitzrovia Youth in Action (FYA), Jamie’s 15, Islington Youth Health Forum, Suzanne Cohen, Hopscotch, Volunteer Action Camden, UCL, Substance Misuse Camden.

‘Young People, Relationships and the Law’ (dir. Suzanne Cohen) was produced with funding from London Borough of Camden for Camden Summer University. In summer 2015 the film was screened at the British Museum as one of the highlights of the Camden Summer University.