What is sexting?
Sexting is sending nude or semi-nude photos by mobile phone, or posting sexual images on social networking sites like Facebook or Myspace. Often, teens send explicit images to a partner or friends for their eyes only. Or in a moment of blurred judgment, they let someone take pictures of them that they might not otherwise agree to.
What can potentially happen next is:
- Harassment or cyberstalking: threats to share the images
- Outing: posting or sharing the images publicly
- Impersonation: pretending to be the person who created the image and posting or sharing it publicly, often with the suggestion that the person is interested in sexual contact.
Why are teens sexting?
Flirtatious game playing, peer pressure and competition are common motivations. A survey by Girlfriend magazine found that four in ten girls had been asked to forward a nude photo of themselves. Similarly, another survey found 51% of teen girls had sent sexual messages or images due to male pressure. A majority of teen girls and boys also claimed they sent sexually suggestive content to be “fun or flirtatious”.
What are the consequences?
For the person forwarding or taking the images, sexting is a criminal activity. Taking a sexual image of a minor and then texting it is creating, holding and distributing child pornography, even if the person committing the offence is a child. In some states, if a person is convicted of child pornography offences they may be registered as a sex offender for the next 20 to 30 years!
For the victim, the damage can be as severe as other forms of bullying, sexual harassment and abuse. Consequences include poor self-esteem and self-image, isolating behaviours, truancy or avoidance of school, eating disorders, self-harm and even some cases of suicide.
The consequences can also be permanent. Once an image has been posted online it is very difficult to get it back. This means the images could be circulating as teens start applying for jobs and meeting potential long-term partners.
How can you protect your teen from sexting?
- Talk through the consequences of ‘sexting’, both posing for images and storing or sending them.
- Ensure your child understands that once an image is sent, it can't be retrieved. Not only will it be available for others to see now, but also in years to come.
- Encourage open discussion with your child about who they're talking to online and what sites they visit.
- Make an effort to become familiar with and understand the new technology your child is using.
- Encourage your child to talk to an adult about any problems or concerns they may have.
- Important – In a number of cyberbullying related youth suicides parents have said they had no idea that their child was even being cyberbullied – they had not told them. Kids are concerned that if they tell their parents about cyber issues their technology will be taken away which will make the issue worse and sadly they opt for suicide as a solution. Tell your child if they ever have an issue in this space they can talk to you without the fear of losing their computer rights or having their mobile taken away.
What should you look out for?
- Sudden reluctance to socialise with friends
- Disinterest or avoidance of school
- Dropping out of sports or other recreational activities
- Extreme sleeping behaviour (either more or less)
- Abnormal nail biting or hair pulling
- Abnormal changes in mood and/or behaviour
What to do next:
- Move your family computer to a public place so you can monitor the times they're online, and their anxiety levels and insist they access their smart phone in the same space.
- Contact the police if the messages are threatening
What to do if your child has been a victim of sexting?
In the event your child has been a victim of sexting, parents can seek assistance from the following services:
- Parentline QLD & NT - 1300 30 1300
- Parentline VIC - 13 22 89
- Parent Helpline SA - 1300 364 100
- Parent Line NSW - 13 20 55
- Parent Help Centre WA - (08) 92721466 or 1800 654 432
- ParentLink ACT - (02) 6205 8800
Young people are encouraged to call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800