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Posted by admin 12:28 am, 6 March 2015

“Sexting” among minors and the potential for harm The internet has become our main form of communication and for the teens of today, it has always been a part of their lives. While parents struggle to understand the many new apps and websites that are popping up all the time, teens seem to take to them like fish to water. With all of this new technology come new risks for kids and teenagers. Around the time of puberty and with increasing sexual curiosity developing, many adolescents experiment with texting each other flirty and sometimes sexual messages. Sometimes these messages include photos of themselves. The teen may intend for the photos to go to one person, such as their boyfriend, but often the photos end up being sent to more people than intended and can end up on social media. Once these messages end up in the public forum there are obviously many more risks involved. Children and teens can be exposed to risks from sexual predators or bullied by peers, and can actually even be charged by police with supplying child pornography. For all of these reasons, it’s important that parents are aware of the dangers of “sexting” and know how to deal with it in order to keep your children safe, without making them feel ashamed. The following tips are aimed at helping you warn your child of the dangers of “sexting” and to deal with if you discover that your child has been engaging in it. Definition “Sexting” is defined as sending sexually explicit messages and images via text, email or online websites. However the use of this word differs and adolescents often do not refer to the sending of images as “sexting”. Risks around “sexting” • Adolescence is a time where young people become increasingly interested in relationships, romance and sex, and as communication in this age group is predominantly through online communication, many young people are exploring these topics online. • Young people are still developing the ability to assess risk and consequences. • Sexting can start off as a normal exploratory behaviour but can create threats to privacy and confidentiality as personal information and images are often made available on the internet and can be accessed by people other than the person it was intended for. • Once personal images are made available on the internet it’s almost impossible to remove them. • Wanting to stand out online is often prioritised over the potential long term consequences. • Adolescents are under social pressure to conform. Young women may feel under pressure to produce sexualised images for young men and young men may feel pressure to share these with their friends. • Often others may use images or messages in order to intentionally harm an individual through ‘cyber-bullying’, which is becoming extremely common in the adolescent age group as well as the broader community. • Cyber-bullying can result in anxiety, depression, poor social and emotional adjustment, suicidality, poor academic performance and poor attendance at school. • Research has shown that social networking sights are often vehicles of sexual violence against women. • Individuals who are already experiencing mental health issues, are homosexual, have disabilities or are in another marginalised group are particularly vulnerable to harm through online bullying. • Anyone involved in sexting who is under the age of 18 is at risk of being criminally charged for supplying child pornography, even if that person was willingly involved. • Viewing pornographic or sexualised information or images can distort children and adolescent’s perceptions of what is normal and may expose them to information that they are too immature to understand and this could harm their development. Protecting young people from possible harm • It’s important for parents and schools to involve young people in discussions about cyber safety, sexuality and privacy. It’s important for young people to understand the difficulties around removing information from the internet and how images and information may be used so that they understand the short and long term risks. • It’s important for parents to set boundaries around cyber and phone usage and monitor usage in the context of a trusting and respectful relationship with their child. Tips for parents • Parents should try to communicate openly about sexuality and cyber risks without negative judgement. • Don’t punish your child for their inappropriate use of the internet, take it as an opportunity to teach them about the risks. • Be actively engaged in internet usage by being your child’s facebook ‘friend’ or having access to their social media websites. • Suggest that internet access and phone use are only in view of parents (i.e. in shared areas of the house). • Use internet security software. Tips for schools • Address cyber safety at school and have ‘acceptable usage policies’. • Use internet security software and blocks on certain websites. • Increase teachers’ skills in dealing with cyber safety issues. • Address any cyber bullying and have appropriate consequences that are supportive rather than punitive. • Learn about the websites and language so teachers can communicate with kids. • Give parents information about risks and appropriate usage guidelines. • Promote respectful relationships between students and appropriate communication strategies. Adapted from the APS InPsych Magazine (October 2013)