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Sexting: What educators and parents need to know

sexting
Mark Kingham Mark Kingham

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.

How can I ensure my child accesses online content safely?

Internet safety and online content
Greg Johnson Greg Johnson

Whilst we marvel at how easily our children take to technology and how comfortable they are at using it, there is no denying that it comes with its own set of issues that can’t be ignored. Whether or not we approve, we have to admit that the Internet has replaced the other more traditional means of entertainment as it has become a plaything which amuses, entertains and delights children across all ages – from toddlers to young children and teens. This makes online safety a top priority for parents as they need to ensure that children are accessing online content that is stimulating yet inoffensive and age appropriate.

Understanding what children do online

Before discussing how to help our children stay safe while on the Internet, we need to know what they do online. Here are the main reasons they use the Internet: –

  • Play games and watch videos/movies
  • Connect with friends on social networking sites
  • Share images and engage in online conversations
  • Search for information on search engines

What are the risks they may be exposed to?

Based on what they use the Internet for, we can identify the potential dangers that our children may be exposed to:

  • Improper content
  • Sharing of personal information
  • Communicating with strangers
  • Sexual abuse or cyberbullying
  • Gambling and or becoming a victim of fraudulent financial transactions

How you can promote safe Internet practices within your home

Here are a few simple but effective tips that can inculcate healthy online practices among young children and encourage them to be discerning and disciplined users of the Internet.

  1. Converse and communicate

It’s never too early to explain the importance of discretion while using the Internet.  Therefore, conversations on the topic go a long way to making an impact on impressionable minds. The first discussions should begin with the child’s first associations with technology as that lays the foundation for safe Internet practices, which will stand them in good stead through the years ahead.

  1. Browse online together

Ask your children what they like watching online and show an active interest in their Internet activities just like you would with their homework. This gives you a good idea of what they do and a chance to encourage them to practice good Internet etiquette.

  1. Check who they communicate with online

Keep track of who they add as friends on their social networking sites and stress the importance of steering clear of strangers, even in the virtual world. Make sure that you become your child’s “friend” on social media so you get a glimpse of what they post and comment about online. This may not be possible with older children as they may not want to add you on their friend list. In that case, agree on one trusted adult that your child likes and would accept as a friend.

  1. Set ground rules that they must abide by

Stipulate the time they are allowed to spend online, the websites they may visit, the activities they can engage in and what they can or cannot share (images, photos and videos). Emphasise the need to maintain discretion and keep personal information private at all costs.

  1. Use parental controls to filter content

Parental controls are features provided free of charge by most Internet service providers that help parents regulate their children’s access to online content. They are available on most Internet enabled devices which include not only computers but tablets, smart phones and other gaming devices too. By setting up parental controls, parents can decide what their children can and can’t view – thereby minimising the possibility of them stumbling upon inappropriate content, even accidentally.

  1. Track privacy settings

Ensure that your child has the highest level of security for privacy settings on their accounts on social networking sites and keep stressing the importance of being cautious and vigilant at all times.

  1. Keep up to date with technology

Most children today are smarter and faster at grasping new trends in technology and may even find a way to dodge all the measures that you have tried to enforce. It may begin with innocent curiosity and successfully progress to the ability to outwit parental controls. Stay informed and well-read to stay ahead of this.

The Internet is a two-sided coin and much depends on how it is used. All it takes is a little prudence and proactive participation in your child’s online activities as this will go a long way in promoting a culture of healthy Internet practices within your home.

Why a new generation of ‘digital’ parents should stop worrying about screen time?

parent-with-child
Mark Kingham Mark Kingham

With its wide sphere of applicability, digital media occupies a pivotal role in everyday life. It is not merely a knowledge tool but a source that offers immense scope for entertainment and communication. However, improper use of technology poses certain threats that appear to be more pronounced in the case of children.

Threats that accompany the use of digital technology may manifest in the following ways:

  • Behavioural: Extended screen time is not only a health hazard but may also lead to online addiction. Screen time includes watching TV, browsing on a computer or playing video games.  Children may take less interest in other creative and outdoor activities and may spend hours in front of the screen.
  • Content: Children are vulnerable and may find themselves exposed to unsafe content. Such content could have an adverse effect on their thinking process.
  • Social Networking: Children may end up sharing personal information with friends online. They may also be subjected to cyberbullying.

These risks have created a conflict in parents’ minds. They often find themselves caught in the struggle to control screen time and prevent children from being exposed to its risks. To draw the line between ‘what’ and ‘how much’ is good or bad is a tough task for parents. To ensure that technology has a constructive role in the developmental process has become a challenging responsibility. These fears around the detrimental consequences of technology have given rise to differing opinions on controlling and regulating screen time.

However, an important question emerges from this –  will restricting the use of digital technology really help?

As indicated by several studies, parents should stop worrying about screen time and focus more on what is being accessed.  The most ideal path is to allow a child to explore the entire horizon of knowledge and gather the best. Imposing extreme control over anything will do more harm than good. And in a world governed by technology, we cannot expect our children to stay completely off the screen. It will restrict them from experiencing technology’s positive benefits. The better approach is to strike a balance and encourage them to make the best use of technology as a resource for learning.

Parents may employ the following methods to ensure internet safety:

  • Technical tools: E-safety solutions, such as monitoring software, offer a method of tracking content that is being accessed. Using the parental controls on supplier Wi-Fi/satellite/cable may also help to prevent certain access. Such techniques will keep parents informed and will also help to educate and train the child to develop resilience against online threat.
  • Dialogue about online risks: Parents need to have regular sessions of dialogue with the child about the benefits and harmful effects of technology. Such discussions will equip children with a better sense of judgement between what is good and bad. It will also encourage them to share problematic experiences with parents.
  • Supervising: As digitally literate parents, it is our duty to direct children in assimilating knowledge from the best sources. Parents need to ensure that children are viewing content that will have a productive role in their development.
  • Setting rules: It is a good practice to set usage rules for children. See article on Setting Boundaries that Work.

Adopting a combination of the above approaches may help parents deal effectively with any risks their children encounter. A well structured strategy with emphasis on the quality of content accessed will ensure a safer online experience. To know more about e-safety, connect with us on LinkedIn today.

For more information about Securus e-safety monitoring software and the benefits it can provide to your school, please contact our sales team. sales@securus-software.com or call +44 (0)330 124 1750

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