Teens & sex­ting: how to keep them safe

Four ex­perts share their in­sights and ad­vice with Sarah Mari­nos.

Good Health (Australia) - - Con­tents -

Last year a group of high school stu­dents in­de­cently as­saulted a class­mate in school toi­lets so they could film the at­tack and post the shock­ing footage on­line. A pornog­ra­phy ring tar­geted girls from 70 high schools across Aus­tralia and shared their naked im­ages on­line. And po­lice in­ves­ti­gated a pri­vate school in Mel­bourne af­ter boys posted pho­tos on In­sta­gram to ‘slut shame’ teenage girls.

Ex­perts say up to half of teenagers may have sent or re­ceived ex­plicit texts, with some chil­dren be­ing ex­posed to sex­ting dur­ing their pri­mary school years. Wor­ry­ingly, 88 per cent of the sex­ual im­ages teenagers send are then shared – in­for­mally dubbed ‘re­venge porn’.

Here, four ex­perts in the field share their in­sights into teenagers and sex­ting, and how to deal with this chal­leng­ing is­sue. “The in­ter­net is part of who kids are and sex­ting is com­mon for teenagers be­cause they don’t have the brain de­vel­op­ment to un­der­stand con­se­quences. They can’t see how what they do to­day might af­fect them in the fu­ture. The in­ter­net moved sex into the pub­lic realm but we haven’t given young peo­ple the rules of en­gage­ment.

When a photo is shared, the young per­son in that photo is trau­ma­tised. It’s a form of abuse. Their body has been seen by other peo­ple and they’ve had no con­trol over that. This af­fects self-es­teem, re­la­tion­ships and trust. I think a good pro­por­tion of the in­crease in anx­i­ety in young peo­ple to­day is due to these so­cial chal­lenges.

Par­ents need to talk with their chil­dren about what can hap­pen once they share a photo or sext. Even if a teenager feels that they love the per­son they’re tex­ting to­day, they don’t know what will hap­pen to that photo to­mor­row.

Teach chil­dren to be proud of who they are, and part of that is re­spect­ing your body and be­ing in con­trol of when and if some­one sees it. You wouldn’t walk down the street with no clothes on in the real world and you shouldn’t do that in the vir­tual world.

If some­one sends your child a photo, re­mind them not to share that photo out of re­spect for the per­son in the pic­ture. But if your child says they’ve sent or shared an im­age, don’t make them feel any worse than they al­ready do by blam­ing them. It’s an­other er­ror of judg­ment that teens make all the time.”

“In my ex­pe­ri­ence, more than 50 per cent of teenagers have sent or re­ceived a naked photo. Chil­dren share nude pho­tos for three main rea­sons – be­cause they want to do it and don’t un­der­stand the con­se­quences, or they’re co­erced and pres­sured, or they are groomed by a preda­tor.

I think celebrity cul­ture and so­cial me­dia play a big part – at the ARIA Awards in No­vem­ber, The Veron­i­cas were top­less. Kids may feel em­pow­ered in the short term, but it sends a poor mes­sage to young girls that to be ac­cepted or pop­u­lar, you’re meant to be naked. It’s ex­tremely sad if you put a value on your­self based on be­ing naked.

Most pres­sure to share nudes comes from boys to­wards girls, although in the past 12 months we’ve seen a shift to­wards girls pres­sur­ing boys too. Once im­ages are out there, peo­ple can be bul­lied about them.

But there are pos­si­ble le­gal con­se­quences too. A naked im­age of a per­son un­der 18 is po­ten­tially child pornog­ra­phy so any­one tak­ing part in sex­ting these kinds of im­ages can be charged with mak­ing, pos­sess­ing and trans­mit­ting child pornog­ra­phy.

They could be placed on the Child Sex Of­fend­ers Reg­is­ter. That can mean they must keep po­lice in­formed of their where­abouts for a cer­tain amount of time, job op­por­tu­ni­ties are lim­ited, and travel to some coun­tries, such as the US, isn’t al­lowed. They could re­main on the reg­is­ter for up to eight years.

Par­ents need to talk to their chil­dren about con­sent and co­er­cion and en­sure they ask for help if some­one ha­rasses them for pho­tos. When you hand over an elec­tronic de­vice, set rules about how it is used and de­ac­ti­vate the cam­era for chil­dren of pri­mary school age. And if your child is in­volved in an in­ci­dent, don’t threaten to block, ban or take away their de­vice – then they’ll never tell you when they have a prob­lem.” “No par­ent wants to think of their child post­ing ex­plicit im­ages of them­selves – but they are. So, par­ents need a harm-min­imi­sa­tion ap­proach. Say­ing ‘don’t’ doesn’t work.

You need to ex­plain to your son or daugh­ter that if they choose to share an ex­plicit im­age, that photo could be shared with peo­ple whom they

don’t want to see it. Use sto­ries that ap­pear in the me­dia to raise the is­sue and to en­sure kids know that once an im­age is shared, it can’t be erased.

But at the same time, we don’t want to shame young peo­ple who do send pho­tos. While it’s not our ex­pe­ri­ence, dat­ing and flirt­ing hap­pens more on­line for to­day’s teenagers.

Dis­cuss moral obli­ga­tions too – if your child is sent a photo that is be­ing shared, what would they do? Talk about never feel­ing pres­sured to do some­thing – let them know that if some­one is us­ing a photo to bully, blame, shame or co­erce them into some­thing, that’s not okay.

And never smugly think ‘none of this will hap­pen to my child’. It’s the world our kids live in and it hap­pens much more than we care to think.”

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