When we were teenagers, sharing a nude or semi-nude image of ourselves wasn’t even a thing, so it’s no wonder it is incredibly worrying and stressful for many parents.
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. We are confident in saying that 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.
The peer pressure on teens today to fit in and share nudes is unprecedented and is also a double-edged sword in most cases. If they share an intimate image, they are often critiqued for their bodies and judged for sharing, and if they don’t share, they are also evaluated for being boring and considered not ‘worth it’ by their peers or crush.
For a lot of young people, sexting is often fun and consensual. Teens often see sexting as part of building relationships and self-confidence and exploring sexuality, bodies, and their sexual identities.
To most adults, sexting is risky, dangerous, and illegal. Yes, this is the case. There are risks, and teenagers can be pressured into sexting, but it isn’t always simple.
Young people DO worry about their images being shared with other people including friends and family members.
Many try to reduce this risk by making images without their face and send only for people they trust, and with whom they have or hope to have a romantic or intimate relationship. But some teenagers do send sexual images to people they’ve never met.
So what can parents of tweens and teens do?
Discuss this topic with any tween or teen child in your house with a device or phone. We experience that kids discuss these topics and share their experiences around this in the schoolyard way before we think they are old enough to discuss it. Early discussions and open conversations ensure that kids feel safe to discuss it at home with you, and a lot of potential problems are cut-off and dealt with quickly. We always suggest a good place to have these conversations is one on one in the car. They are beside you or behind you and it is less intimidating to a teen rather than sitting across a table face to face.
Young people want to be able to talk openly and honestly with their parents about sexting. But often this is not possible. If you are a parent, talking with your child is the best way to help them learn about the risks and what to do if something goes wrong.
As parents, we need to talk about what sexting is and what to do if they see or receive a nude or a sexy selfie and the laws around this. What the risks of sexting are. Whether sexting can be part of a respectful relationship. The younger you start talking about this the better.
Here are some questions that can get a conversation going:
Do you know people at school who’ve sent or received nude?
Do they do it for fun or to flirt?
Was it their idea to send the photo, or did someone persuade them to?
What do you know about people sharing sexual images of someone to get revenge?
Do you have any questions about things you’ve heard?
Do you understand the law?
If your child has questions about sexting, try to answer them as honestly and openly as you can. If you have concerns about the risks of sexting, you could explain your concerns and why you’d prefer your child didn’t send sexts.
Once you’ve started talking about sexting with your child, you might find talking gets easier the more you do it.
Get familiar with the law
Make sure your child knows the legalities and laws around sharing intimate images. Please get to know your own state’s legislation and discuss it with your child. For example, even sharing personal photos between two similarly aged children is illegal in all states in Australia until sixteen years old. (or older in some states). We have added all the state laws at the end of this email.
Discuss and explain
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. Discuss with them how it might make them feel if a photo of theirs was shared? Empower them to understand that there are laws to protect them from image-based abuse and sextortion should this happen to them. Encourage teens to think about what could happen if they broke up or fell out with someone who had sexual images of them. For example, that person might share sexual images to get revenge. You could also explain that once images are on the internet they can be very difficult to remove. It’s also important to help your child understand the legal consequences of sexting and image-based abuse.
Come up with a plan together
Talk about what they can do or say if they are asked for a nude or have a nude sent to them. By helping them plan for the eventuality of being asked, they can make an informed choice and decision instead of acting under the pressure of the situation.
Explain that sexting is sexual activity. All sexual acts – including sexting – need consent from a partner. (they cannot legally consent under 16yrs). Breaching consent by sharing a sext isn’t respectful or OK. It’s also not OK to share other people’s sexts or to send a nude to someone who hasn’t asked for one. It’s important for teens to know that they have a right to say ‘no’. For example, ‘It’s never OK for someone to pressure you into doing anything sexual, including sending sexual photos of yourself’. It’s also a good idea for teens to practise saying no by just saying, ‘No, I don’t send nudes’.
If young people have seen sexting photos of another teen they might feel guilty, ashamed, and uncomfortable about doing ordinary things like going to school or socialising. The situation can be very humiliating, and their reputation may have been damaged.
It can also harm friendships and social network.
Sexting can expose them to bullying or cyberbullying. For example, when people share images, they might also post nasty comments, attack their reputation, call them names, ask for more images or make other inappropriate demands. Often girls get more of this kind of bullying and criticism than boys. This is because some people apply different standards to girls and boys. This situation can lead to mental health issues like depression and self-harm in extreme cases. We also regularly hear of ASD kids, others with learning disabilities, and LGBTQIA+ kids purposefully targeted.
As scary as the nude and sexting culture is, the reality is that our young people are dealing with it regularly. But as with any issue, education and empowerment is the key to resilience!
For more tips and hints, check out the Safe on Social Toolkit. www.safeonsocialtoolkit.com