In today’s world, sexting (or using a digital device to send sexual pictures, videos or texts) may very well seem like the new normal. But before anyone hits “send”, there are definitely some pretty major potential consequences to consider.
Nowadays, young people are spending more time online than ever before, and in this sphere, sexting has become a more and more commonplace means of flirting. But very few young people ever stop to consider that there is no way to actually take back a picture or message, once they have sent it out.
One of the common regrets that is regularly shared in our student survey is that of young people saying they wish they hadn’t sent or shared private photos/videos online. This is mostly due to the permanent nature of the internet and the private level of the content floating around online.
Victims of sexting-related cyberbullying or "revenge porn" often discover that an ex didn't delete a message, photo or video at the end of their relationship. More people are continuing to hold onto these personal messages, and even share them with others! This gross violation of trust and privacy can often leave young people (and their parents) hurt, lost, confused, and unsure of what to do.
But it’s not all bad news. There are some key strategies out there to help you safeguard against the dangers and risks involved in sexting. But in order to effectively use them, you're going to have to get ready for some tough conversations about sexting.
To lighten the mood before we start have you ever wondered where and when does clothing become inappropriate? What the difference between a bathing suit or beach wear to a public display either in person or online. I think this video helps.
What is Sexting?
Okay, back to the topi: Sexting, in a nutshell, simply means using your phone, computer or camera to take or send sexual content, such as images or messages. Sexting can also include videos containing nudity, or showing or simulating sex acts. Sexual text messages may discuss or propose sexual acts.
With the rise of smartphones and messaging apps, sexting has now become much more common than ever before. Sometimes, these apps can feel like a safe environment, but that is not necessarily true.
For example, Snapchat appeals to teens and children, as it allows users to send photos which disappear after 10 seconds. Users believe that they are safe, as the image will disappear - but this isn't always the case. There have been some cases where teens have sent photos on Snapchat, only to have them saved and distributed within their social circles without their knowledge or consent.
Facing the Reality of Sexting
One of the first steps for parents and children to safeguard against the risks of sexting is to become aware of the threats. Here are some resulting statistics from studies that have been carried out around the concept of sexting.
1 out of 7 children have sent messages with sexual content, while 1 in 4 admit that they have received these kinds of messages.
Recent studies show that 70% of children encounter sexual or violent content online while doing homework. Furthermore, 17% of children between the ages of eight and twelve have received an online message with photos or words that made them feel uncomfortable. Unfortunately, only 7% of parents are aware of this.
As parents, it can be woefully easy to ignore/miss the dangers of sexting. With statistics like this, it is hard to know if your child has had at least one incident with sexting. In order to handle the effects of sexting, then, monitoring the apps on a child’s smartphone is going to be essential. It's also very important to find a comfortable balance between offering freedom and keeping a close eye on your teen or child. The easiest way to accomplish this is through an honest and trusting conversation with them.
The Risks of Sexting
Sexting is a normalised practice amongst young people in many societies - but as with anything, normalisation doesn’t necessarily make it safe.
The sharing of private information may result in social embarrassment and bullying. Bullying can quickly lead to cyberbullying, and a steep reduction in self-esteem.
As they click “send”, most young people aren't considering the future, but sexting can easily come back to affect future career choices or lead to dangerous sexual exploitation. It can even lead to "Sextortion" (using sexual content to blackmail someone).
If you share private images or messages across social media sites, that information remains public forever. This information can be found by anyone through a simple internet search.
Fact check: Did you know that the chances of forwarding a sext without consent, or having a sext forwarded without consent, are at 12% and 8.4%, respectively?
For parents, their primary concern is Cybersafety, and includes making sure that their child is neither the victim nor the aggressor. Sometimes, sexting can even lead to convictions, where offenders can face imprisonment and registration with the National Register of Sex Offenders.
Under 18 file sharing
Regardless of whether sexting takes place within a consensual relationship, if either persons involved are under the age of 18, it is considered to be child-exploitive material and as a result, an illegal act.
- By sending these types of images or video, you can be charged with the production of Child-exploitive material (CEM).
- By receiving these images and not deleting them or worse yet, showing them to other people. You can be charged with distribution of CEM.
These are serious offences that result in sexual charges on your criminal record. A record that can dramatically affect your future studies and career options. Contrary to popular belief, sexual criminal records do not disappear when you turn 18, but in fact carry-over to your adult record.
For more information about this please visit Commonsense Sexting and Relationships.
Physical Copy Vs Digital Copy
There is no difference in the eyes of the law in regards to the severity of possessing either physical or digital copies of under age material, both are illegal. Please, if you have images of this nature in your possession, you need to delete them immediately. Also, if there are others that have illegal images of you and refuse to delete them, contact E-safety and they will assist in the removal process.
- If you’re under the age of 18, never send nude or semi-nude photos to anyone
- If you're over the age of 18, think about what happens if this relationship doesn’t work out. What are the possible long term effects of someone having personal images of you on their phone?
- If someone else has photos of you that you do not wish to, ask them to delete the images immediately. If they refuse to comply with your request, contact E-safety to pursue further action.
I don’t communicate this to scare anyone, but rather to make sure everyone is on the same level of acknowledging that this stuff happens all the time and that we should only ever send text messages, pictures and videos that we would be okay being released for the whole world to see.
Getting to the Core of the Problem
A 2016 study was conducted to investigate the relationships between sexting and self-esteem, and found that high self-esteem was linked to a decreased chance of sexting. It also found that a high sense of attention-seeking was linked to an increased risk of sext forwarding.
Engaging in risky behaviours has also been investigated, regarding traits such as self-esteem. Low self-esteem has been shown to be associated with risky sexual behaviour, in both adults and adolescents. The self-image of a child relates closely to their sexuality and sexual behaviour. This is because low self-esteem reduces the understanding of the long-term consequences of sexual risk-taking. Therefore, an open conversation about self-esteem is a necessary stepping stone for parents and their children.
Top Safety Tips
Parents’ first reactions might be to ban all use of smartphones or digital devices. This, however, is not a sustainable solution in our increasingly technological world.
Instead, here are four top tips which are effective at preventing and reducing the harm of sexting, without disconnecting your internet:
1. Avoid Engaging in Sexting
The first tip is to never share personal photographs, videos or explicit messages. The easiest way to avoid problems is to avoid engaging in sexting entirely. After all, everything that happens on the internet stays on the internet forever; so avoiding the activity entirely is the easiest form of reducing the potential for victimisation from sexting.
One simple step you can take is to install device controls which limit online activity. Most forms of cyberbullying and sexting take place after 9:30pm, so something as simple as time-locking the use of a device can be effective.
2. Help Train and Equip Young People
The best way to reduce the negative effects of sexting is by educating children and teenagers in protecting themselves. This involves identifying what sexting is, as well as the potential risks.
Practical tips your children should learn:
- How to react to proposals for sexual acts
- When to speak up against sexting
- How to report incidents of sexual content found online
3. Parent-Child Trust
The best way to prevent and manage online threats is to bring them out into the open for discussion. You need to create a safe and comfortable space for the young people in your world to be able to come forward and address the run-ins that they may experience online. If they don’t feel comfortable discussing issues with you, you’ll remain in the dark and unable to help.
Cultivating this type of environment can be difficult - especially when sexual content is involved. But parents and kids need to try and create a supportive environment, where you can discuss problems when they come up.
One of the easiest ways to build a safe space is to bring up a general conversation around sexting and consequences, which you can circle back around to at the end and ask if they’ve ever experienced anything like that before.
Once scenarios have been addressed, it will then become much, much easier for young people and parents to effectively plan and take action against further escalation.
4. School-Wide Interventions
Another fantastic way to deal with sexting is by gathering the entire school together to build awareness. One of the most effective ways to accomplish this is by having an eSafety-certified speaker come and do a presentation at the school on the subject of sexting and other difficult topics such as cyberbullying.
Having an authority figure on the subject can really help to ensure that important message takeaways are understood and adopted into the students’ thinking and understanding, when it comes to online activities.
Take Action to Stay Cybersafe
Sexting is a dangerous and underrated threat for young people. But thankfully, it can be prevented, with the appropriate measures put into place.
With enough awareness and helpful tips, we can all work to bring the problem of sexting under control. This will make social media platforms a safer, more collaborative and positive space for socialising.