Do you remember your parents telling you that they had it much harder back in their time? Have you told your kids that they have it easy compared to when you were growing up? Well, there is one thing where our children do have it much harder than we did, and that is dealing with a pressure that didn’t even exist when we were teenagers: Sexting.
What is sexting?
Sexting is sending sexually explicit messages, photos or videos via a digital device like a phone or a computer. Sexting includes sending nude or semi-nude images.
Research conducted by the Australian Government in 2018 found that 33% of teens aged 12-19 were engaging in some form of sexting activity either with a boyfriend/girlfriend, friend, or other. This figure has risen substantially in the last four years since this research was released, and a more recent study is quoting that up to 70% of tweens and 87% of teens have been exposed to nude images online.
Why do teens participate in sexting?
For many of us parents, we see sexting as risky, dangerous and illegal behaviour with devastating ramifications so it is difficult to understand why our children may be tempted to participate in it.
Teens use sexting as a form of sexual expression or flirting. Some use it as a form of humour, others to gain attention, to fit in or to give in to peer pressure. Darker uses include revenge, humiliation, an opportunity to blackmail the victim to send more images or to deliberately exploit the victims for the pornography industry.
What are the dangers of sexting?
The main danger is that our children have no idea how treacherous sexting actually is. Even if they think they are just doing it for fun to a platonic friend, the consequences can be devastating. More than 90% of sexts will end up on other social media sites.
Even private messages or messages that seemingly disappear are not private. Screenshots, screen recordings, and forwarding images can happen with a couple of taps on a smartphone. Once an intimate image is shared with someone, there is no way to control what happens to the image once it’s sent.
The law is quickly catching up to this area of exploitation, and the legal consequences can result in jail time and even being listed as a registered sex offender.
What can parents do?
Don’t put this in the ‘too hard’ basket. Just because you didn’t have to deal with it as a teenager, doesn’t mean you can’t help your children through this.
Look for opportunities to bring up the topic of sexting without interrogating your children. If your children are still young, make sure you talk to them about this before they are 12 years old. If they are older, then the sooner the conversations begin, the better.
Another ideal time to talk about sexting in more detail is before allowing your teen to have their own mobile phone. They need to be fully aware of the risks and willing to take on the responsibility of using the device legally and safely.
Normalising talking about sensitive topics like this while they are younger will result in your children being more willing to tell you about what is going on later in their lives.
The peer pressure on teens today to fit in and share nudes is unprecedented. Show them that you understand the pressure and how hard it is to fit in. Peer pressure is something common to all teens throughout the generations even though the consequences of sexting are much more devastating.
When students interact with the online world there is the responsibility to behave as the best digital citizen they can be. At GCC we reinforce this message from an early age but particularly from Year 5 onwards. Digital citizenship is something we explore in the classroom, during assembly times and through guest speakers who are experts in this field.
Thankfully sexting is not a big problem at our College compared to some schools, nevertheless, when an event does happen the impact can be disastrous and far-reaching. Often the impact is felt by the whole year level.
The best antidote against sexting is found in one of our core values “Respect”. If young men treat young ladies with respect and vice versa sexting is not an issue. Relationships are best when they are conducted respectfully and the quality of relationships is critical to the success of a school. That is why “Respect” is not just a buzzword at GCC, it is woven into the very fabric of our culture.
I know that this has been a heavy topic but I see sexting as a serious threat to the well-being of our students. It is up to the College, parents and caregivers to do everything possible to discuss this threat with the children in our charge in order to protect them and help them grow into happy, well-adjusted, confident adults.
Mike Curtis, Principal