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Inside Track: Balance to be struck in the protection of children

Back in July, the NSPCC launched its "underwear" rule.

The campaign, to get parents to talk to children about the risks of sexual abuse, made me strangely queasy. Also, the underwear rule itself seemed contrived. The five pillars of the campaign spell out the word pants, but not very obviously.

The idea is that parents should protect their children by having conversations with them about their bodies and their right to control what happens to them. From primary age, children need to understand what is and isn't OK.

That way, the NSPCC says, they are less likely to go along with grooming or keep quiet when something is wrong.

So parents have to talk pants. I think the naff vulgarity is off-putting, but you might argue that it is friendly and accessible.

The P stands for "privates are private", the A for "Always remember your body belongs to you" (which feels a bit forced by the acronym).

The N stands for "No means No" and the T for "talk about secrets that upset you". Finally, the S is for "speak up, someone can help".

I'm not sure whom the slogan is aimed at: the parents or the child.

I felt that pressing this topic on primary age children was possibly inappropriate. Do they really need to know about this risk? And just because some probably do, does that mean they all need to?

Well, it turns out others felt the same. One of the biggest objections to the campaign the NSPCC has faced is about undermining the innocence of childhood.

But the charity insists the campaign is important. And what it is really about, it says, is opening up the channels of communication between a parent and child. It argues that children do need to know about what is OK and what isn't. Leaving aside more disturbing types of grooming and abuse, the prevalence of "sexting" alone (when teenage boys pressurise girls to send them naked or partially naked smartphone pictures of parts of their body) shows why all children need to know the limits, the NSPCC says.

It isn't alone. Peter Davies, chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre, agrees.

The NSPCC will launch a second phase of the campaign early next year. It insists the initiative has received positive feedback from parents and has hit a chord with those who are worried.

Charity chiefs argue that, while parents want to do the best by their children, this is understandably an area many feel awkward about discussing.

The campaign's main aim is to encourage parents to talk to their children, opening up channels to prevent future problems.

If a child is never told that adults can be wrong, for example, this void can be exploited.

If they do not learn from a parent that they can talk about anything without getting into trouble, they may stay silent.

I'm still not sure about the campaign. But its key goal is simply to get parents to think about how to have conversations with their children. And that's surely no bad thing.

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