‘Sexting’ risks part of Ontario’s revised sex ed curriculum

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne leaves after making an announcement during a press conference at Queen's Park in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

TORONTO – Students will learn about the benefits and potential dangers of online activity in Grade 1 and about “sexting” in Grade 4 under Ontario’s revised sex education curriculum, which will be released Monday.

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of a “quick facts” guide for parents that will be released as part of the first update of the province’s health and physical education curriculum since 1998 – before smartphones and sexting became part of our vocabulary.

The guide says students in Grades 1, 2 and 3 will learn initial searching skills and strategies for safe Internet use, including “how to get help for themselves or others if harassment or abuse happens either face-to-face or online.”

READ MORE: New Ontario sex ed curriculum to be released within weeks

The primary grade students will also learn the difference between real and fictional violence, in the media or with online games, and “respectful communications” in the gym, classroom and schoolyard.

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Even some elementary school students have sent sexually explicit pictures of themselves to someone online, while 11 per cent of Grade 10 students and about 14 per cent of those in Grade 11 say they have sent a sext, according to a 2015 study, Young Canadians in a Wired World.

“As students get older, they are more likely to sext,” the guide warns parents. “Many students are unaware of the potential effects and consequences of sexting.”

Students in Grades 4 and up will learn more about using technology to support learning and improved communication, and about the dangers of online bullying.

Grades 4, 5 and 6 students will learn more specifically about the risks of sexting and protecting their privacy online and about the possible legal, social and emotional implications of sending sexually explicit digital images online.

READ MORE: ‘Real sex’ site aims to teach guys they don’t have to replicate porn in real life

“Peers, romantic partners or even strangers can pressure or coerce a young person to participate in sexting,” the guide tells parents. “Once a person sends a sext, they lose control of it.”

The guide advises parents that blocking Internet content is “typically ineffective” for older children and youth, and says the focus should be on helping kids develop skills for thinking critically about what they see online.

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Government and education sources have confirmed Education Minister Liz Sandals will release details of the new sex ed curriculum at a Monday morning news conference at Queen’s Park.

The Liberals abandoned an earlier attempt to update the sex ed curriculum in 2010 after protests by some religious groups, but Premier Kathleen Wynne, who warned it is “dangerously out of date,” promised the update will be in place for the start of the school year in September.

The reintroduced curriculum is not expected to show a marked departure from what was proposed in 2010. It will teach kids about homosexuality and same-sex marriages in Grade 3, encourage discussions about puberty, including masturbation, in Grade 6, and talk about preventing sexually transmitted diseases in Grade 7, which could include information on oral and anal sex.

Wynne has said students should start learning facial cues and how to read body language as early as Grade 1 to give them the ability to understand the concept of consent.

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