In a 2017 Australian Government survey, 9 out of 10 young people aged 14 to 17 thought that sexting happened among their peers as a kind of courtship behaviour 🤯
This issue is further evidenced by a 2014 survey of Australian high school students which reported that sexting is common in most teenage relationships. Alarmingly:
❗️ 54% of the young people surveyed said that they had received a sexually explicit text message
❗️ 26% reported that they had sent a sexually explicit photo of themselves
This is an ever-increasing issue associated with the authoring of visual online content by children and young people. It means your teenagers may unwittingly publish images of themselves or their peers that could be considered pornographic or exploitative, and which may put them at risk of predators and paedophiles.
WHAT IS SEXTING? 🤔
The sending of provocative or sexual images, messages or videos (either using a mobile phone or posting such material online) is known as "sexting". The term is not often used by young people or in popular culture however. Young people are more likely to refer to other terms like ‘sending nudes' or ‘d*ck pics’.
COBRA believes it is important to talk with your children about the possible consequences of sexting. This is relevant for your teenagers personal relationships as well as the potential for them to be ‘groomed’ by potential paedophiles, predators and abusers. This is because of those teenagers who reported being asked for a sexually explicit image, more than half (52%) of those requests came from someone they did not know.
THE RISKS 😬
Sharing intimate images may seem like a bit of fun or innocent flirting for young people, particularly those in a relationship. But things can go wrong, and it is important your child understands this. Some potential issues that may arise include:
🛑 Your child loses control of the image: Once an image is shared, it can be copied and saved by others, shared with people the sender does not know and posted on social media and public websites. Images can be extremely difficult to remove and the consequences can follow a young person into adulthood.
🛑 Things can go wrong even in a trusted relationship or friendship: A friend or partner may, on impulse and without thinking, share an image more broadly than the sender intended. Sometimes when a relationship breaks down there may be an intent to humiliate an ex-partner or friend. This is image-based abuse.
🛑 Images may not always be sent willingly: Young people may be forced or pressured into sending explicit images or videos. This may be a particular risk when communicating on a dating site or with strangers whose real motives might not be known or understood. Even young people who know each other may experience coercion or pressure to send a nude.
🛑 Sometimes sexting can lead to ‘sextortion’ — blackmail with a sexual component — when someone threatens to share an intimate image unless the person in the image pays money or gives into their demands.
THE CONSEQUENCES 😱
The consequences of sexting can be serious: For young people, sharing naked or sexually explicit images might result in:
👉🏼 Humiliation, guilt, shame, anger and self-blame — which can lead to ongoing emotional distress, withdrawal from school and family life and in severe cases, self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
👉🏼 Bullying, teasing and harassment from peers — they may experience bullying, including cyberbullying, if photos are shared around their school community or friendship group.
👉🏼 Damage to their reputation — it may impact on their reputation and performance at school, as well as employment opportunities in the future
👉🏼 Predators, paedophiles, sexual assault perpetrators and abductors may identify and/or target your child as a result of the image
👉🏼 Criminal charges and penalties — it can be a crime when it involves asking for, accessing, creating, possessing and/or sharing sexualised images of people under 18.
MINIMISING THE RISKS TO YOUR CHILD 🙂
Here are some tips for how to minimise the risk for your teenager:
✔️ Talk early, talk often
✔️ Match your approach to your child’s level of maturity, age and the type of relationship you share with them. Maybe take the opportunity for a chat while you are doing something together, like a long walk or a car trip. You could start from a real life story in the media or from their school or community, asking questions like: Do you think it was right for her to share that photo after they broke up? Do you think it was right for him to post that video online of his friend having sex with a girl?
✔️ Explore what their friends think about sharing nudes. Ask what they think might happen if one of their friend’s nudes went viral, and how it might make their friend feel.
✔️ Let them know that they can always approach you if they feel pressured to share an image of themselves or if they have shared an image of someone else. Let them know that you will support them.
✔️ Promote self-confidence and that it is OK to say ‘no'
✔️ Explain that they do not have to send intimate images just because others do.
✔️ Let them know that it is OK to say ‘no’ when someone asks for an intimate photo, even if it is their boyfriend or girlfriend or someone they trust. Respecting their bodies and personal values is important.
✔️ Talk about ways your child can handle a request for a nude photo. They could respond in funny ways like sending a picture of some noodles or an animal.
✔️ If unwanted requests are received, encourage your child to reply with a stern ‘no’. If things continue or get aggressive, your child should consider blocking the person and seek support from a trusted adult. It is also a good idea to save screenshots of any abusive or threatening message in case you want to report them later on.
✔️ Teach your teenager about consent, personal boundaries and respect for self and others
✔️ Help them understand the impact of sharing images of others and that they are breaking someone’s trust when they do this without their consent.
✔️ Talk about what healthy and respectful relationships look like. Mutual respect, trust and consent are important. Pressure from a boyfriend or girlfriend to share an intimate image is not an example of a respectful relationship.
✔️ Talk about the risks — what can go wrong, and the legal issues. Remind them that once an image is shared, it is almost impossible to get it back or control how it is shared.
✔️ Point out that images which include identifiable features, such as a person’s face, hair, tattoos, distinctive clothing or jewellery, can carry a higher risk. It may also be possible to identify someone by matching the background of the image to the background of their public profile picture.
✔️ Help them understand that viewing or sending intimate images can carry the risk of committing a crime, even if the image has been willingly shared.
WHAT TO DO WHEN THINGS GO WRONG 😢
🖐🏻 Stay calm and open. Listen, and act fast! But be sure to approach and deal with the situation calmly. If you are upset or angry, your child may feel like they cannot come to you about other concerns in the future.
🖐🏻 Thank them for being brave enough to let you know. While being supportive, help them understand the consequences of their actions. Reassure them that they are not alone and you will work through this together
🖐🏻 Gather as many details as you can and act fast to minimise the risk of harm, including reporting of the incident to government/ police
🖐🏻 Seek help if you are concerned about your child. Consider talking to your GP if you have other concerns about the health and wellbeing of your child and seek a referral to an adolescent psychologist. Young people can access counselling services from Kids Helpline (for 5 to 25 year olds) and eheadspace (for 12 to 25 year olds). Free and confidential legal advice is available from Youth Law Australia (for young people under 25 years) and local community legal centres can also assist with advice and referrals.
Whilst you may wish the issue of sexting did not exist for your teenager, the reality is it does. We recommend a proactive and education based approach to help prevent your child from becoming a victim of this very real and concerning trend.
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