Children today are connected to each other and the world via digital technology more than any previous generation. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter take precedence over email as the preferred mode of communication across most age groups. However, being digitally savvy doesn’t protect against the problems caused by access to these new social avenues.
A growing problem here is sexting – the sending and receiving of sexually explicit content in the form of images, videos and/or messages. These can be sent using any device that allows you to share media and messages. Sexting may be seen as harmless if it happens between consenting adults. However, problems arise when the creation and sharing of sexually explicit images involves a child – even if the person doing it is a child themselves.
Sexting:What does the research tell us…
The follow-up question to this, then, would be the reasons why children feel the need to engage in sexting. There are several reasons why children engage in sexting ranging from peer pressure, a need to test and explore their sexual identity and feelings, getting more attention on social media through to an inability to say no to persistent demands for sexually explicit images.
In fact, an online survey, conducted across the UK with girls and boys aged 11-16, shows that 13% have taken a topless picture and 3% have taken a fully naked image. Of the ones who had taken naked and semi-naked images, 55% said they had shared the image with someone else while 36% had been asked to show them to someone online. Of these, 31% said they did not know the person the image was shared with. These statistics are undoubtedly concerning.
Young children are now more vulnerable than before to digital targeting by paedophiles. The Daily Telegraph, in a recent article, reports an estimated 44,000 secondary school students have been caught sexting – a number that has alarmed teachers and child protection officials alike. What most children don’t realise is that, whilst it is easy to send a photo or message, they have absolutely no control over how and who it gets passed on to. Any media, once shared online, lasts forever. This means that a photo or video shared by a young person privately can still end up being shared between adults they don’t know.
Another misconception is the harmless nature of sexting. Sexting can potentially open up young people to unsolicited online abuse and attention, blackmail and cyber bullying. It can also cause a lot of emotional distress.
Need for open communication
Parents and educators play a pivotal role here. Communication forms the cornerstone when dealing with topics such as sexting. It is important for adults to gauge their relationship with a child and begin discussions accordingly.
As a parent or teacher, you can discuss the dos and don’ts when it comes to navigating content online and help children understand that it is okay to say no to sharing content they are uncomfortable with. Adults should make children understand that trust and consent are extremely important in a healthy relationship and nobody can pressurise them into doing things they are not comfortable with. Also, children should feel safe about talking to the adults in their lives, in case they are faced with an ambiguous or potentially threatening situation.
Know the risks of sexting
In order to help children understand the dangers of sexting, parents should sit and explain what can happen when things go wrong – what the dangers of sexting are, the legal issues involved and the potential consequences for a minor and/or the person being abused.
A recent report on sexting guidelines in schools and colleges released by the UKCCIS looks at the various ways in which educational institutions, parents/carers and the judiciary should deal with the subject. It stresses the need to establish proper procedures for handling incidents of this nature – right from the manner in how the initial response is dealt with and discussed with parents, the police and the children involved. Educational institutions play an important role here as well. Teaching children how to safeguard themselves from unsolicited sexual imagery and content helps them navigate the risks better. Addressing these sensitive issues within a safe space allows children the liberty to explore key issues and the confidence to seek the support of adults, as and when is needed.
Children need to be assured that you put their safety, happiness and well-being above all else. Offer them your support, a listening ear and the assurance that you will do everything possible to aid them in dealing with difficult and troubling times.
To know more about safeguarding children online and to monitor their digital footprint at school, connect with Securus.