It’s true the world in which we’re parenting our teens is very different to the one we were raised in. Of course kids are still kids… and always will be, but today’s technology allows them ways of communicating and interacting that we’ve never needed to manage before now.
Data shows that 89% of Australian adolescents own a mobile phone, with many of these being smart phones with internet connectivity. Relationships and connections are no longer restricted to notes passed in class, whispers at lunch time and after school chats on the landline. Our kids are and can be in touch with others 24/7 and this opportunity for instant interaction can sometimes have unpleasant outcomes.
We can’t deny teen intimacy, it’s been been happening for generations and probably since the beginning of time. Sexting takes intimacy to a new level and is driven by access to technology, in particular the capacity for mobile devices to take and instantly send images. Conservative figures suggest that at least 40% of teens – girls and boys – have sent, received or been shown sexualised images of themselves or peers.
It’s well understood that adolescents are not skilled decision makers. They’ll often struggle with impulsivity and there’s a real inability to weigh up the long term consequences of their actions. Sending intimate pictures – sexting – is one action which can have long lasting and dire repercussions and according to a QPS representative teens can’t be reminded often enough about this.
For instance, a young girl may think her boyfriend requesting she send him an intimate photo is harmless. It isn’t. And here are just some of the reasons why:
- Once a photo has been taken on a device and/or sent, there’s no guarantee it can ever be completely deleted.
- Today’s undying love may not be so tomorrow. Regret and embarrassment are difficult emotions to live with.
- There is a forever risk of images surfacing at a later time and in very unsavoury circumstances. Such pictures are highly sought after by online predators and are used as currency within some pedophile rings.
Importantly though, it’s illegal. Under Australian law, naked or intimate photos of anyone under the age of 18 are considered child exploitation material.
- Child exploitation material describes images which are fully nude, partially nude or even clothed but suggesting sexualised behaviour.
- Any teen asking for another to send them a “nude” image has committed the crime of procuring child exploitation material.
- Any teen who takes such a photo has committed the crime of producing child exploitation material.
- Sending nude or intimate pictures… or showing such pictures to others… constitutes distributing child exploitation material.
All of the above offences risk prosecution and the possibility of being placed on the national register of sex offenders. This in turn can restrict employment opportunities, future relationships and even overseas travel.
As parents we need to keep up with the rapid change of technology and how our kids are accessing it. Feeling “it’s all too hard and confusing” needs to be replaced by asking questions, accepting ongoing learning and maintaining vigilance. It’s harsh, but kids can’t be scared enough about the potential risks associated with sexting and until they get the message.
It’s a conversation I feel we need to have repeatedly. Don’t you?