Understanding Sexting And How To Combat It

Professional Development

by Brett Lee

Technological and e-learning is not about technology, it is about learning, just like cyber-safety education and compliance is not about technology, it is about health and wellbeing. E-learning and cyber-safety education must go hand in hand if our students are to extract the very best the online world can provide.

Education enabling our youth to reduce online risk and create a positive digital footprint will not be delivered by online entities but by those around them in the physical world: parents, carers and very importantly, teachers.

As educators, you have the ability to play an essential and effective role in assisting your students to be part of a safe, fun, productive and educational online environment by providing information and applying appropriate boundaries. This is achievable and there is a real chance you are already playing this role. It is important to remember that a positive online experience and digital footprint generally is not achieved by default.

What is it?
‘Sexting is the distribution of a sexually explicit image of oneself to another user via information communication technology’.

Sharing nude pictures is not a new idea, but what has changed is the split-second ability to produce and share images with potentially four billion people via a smartphone or other internet enabled device.

While some might argue that sexting is a victimless act, it is important that we consider various scenarios where those images are viewed and used in a way not intended by the creator.

How serious can sexting be when teenagers are involved?
Serious criminal offences can be committed when children and teenagers engage in this practice. The Australian Federal Criminal Code contains a definition relating to what is ‘Child Exploitation Material’.

In general, this is a picture, video or description of what is, or appears to be, a person under the age of 18 years and the material is sexually explicit in nature. As an example, it can depict the breasts of a female under 18 or the genitalia of any person under 18. It is illegal to create, possess or distribute this material.

These laws apply to all people in Australia from ten years of age and there is no element of ‘intent’ required to be proven as to why someone has possession of child exploitation material. Therefor it is not necessary to show ‘why’ someone has this, only that they have it.

In real terms this means it is immaterial from a criminal perspective if someone states, “I was just mucking around, I didn’t do this to hurt anyone”.

Potential outcomes to consider
Some of the issues teenagers in Australia have faced as a result of sexting:

  • Arrest
  • Police investigation
  • Blackmail (others using the images for their own gain)
  • Knowledge that others may have and control the image forever
  • Extreme embarrassment
  • Global humiliation
  • Loss of trust amongst adults
  • Disappointment from family members

Why sext?
Consider some of the reasons that people engage in sexting:

  • impulsiveness
  • belief it makes them mature
  • thinking that everybody is doing it
  • viewing it as not a big deal, and something funny
  • unsolicited images having been sent to them initially
  • pressure from others (either peer or blackmail)
  • a need to feel liked or accepted by others
  • no reason NOT to do.

Where do students get their opinions from?
Children will most likely form their beliefs about sexting from

  • Peers
  • Older teenagers
  • Parent or Carer
  • Teachers
  • The media
  • Online contacts

Questions for students
As teachers, we can challenge our students to ask themselves:

  • Why am I doing this?
  • Is this really who I am?
  • How could this affect me, my family, my community and my future if it became public?

What to do if I am concerned or have a problem with sexting
Something can always be done to help, no matter what choices students may make in the online space.

The advice below is a general guide. You will need to consider the individual circumstances, local rules and policies and also advice and training you have received from those in authority in your community.

Advice to give students who disclose their involvement in or the existence of sexting may include the following:

  • If you have possession of these images or videos now is the time to DELETE. You may also consider talking to a trusted person.
  • If someone you know has images or videos of you, ask them to DELETE them. Ask if you can watch them do this so you feel comfortable it has been done.
  • If you receive an image or video from someone you do not know, DELETE IT and then BLOCK the contact.
  • If you receive an image or video from someone you know you may choose to DELETE. If it continues, DELETE and then talk to your friend. (This may not be easy but if you don’t say something it will most likely continue).
  • Never take a screen shot or make a copy.
  • Never forward images or video for any reason at all.
  • Never engage online to fix the problem.
  • If you ever feel out of control, pressured, scared or worried get offline and talk to a trusted person.
  • If you have concerns for a friend or any other person who is engaged in sexting, REPORT IT.

It is highly recommended for students, teachers and other associated staff to NEVER copy, send or print Child Exploitation Material.

The following four principles/safeguards will assist and empower parents, carers, educators and other professionals charged with the care of children in reducing the instances of and dealing with sexting. Teachers are encouraged not only to pass these principles onto parents but to practice these where applicable in the school environment.

Safeguard 1 – Set Rules and Boundaries
These are not optional.

Parents and children have rules and boundaries in every area of their lives. Rules do not stop them having fun; they protect them from themselves and others. As children grow, parents should not be afraid to modify a rule, taking care not to move outside their values, beliefs, morals and ethics. Rules and boundaries provide security, letting children know where they stand.

The rules must be enforced or there is no point having them. They will not be taken as seriously if they can be continually broken. On the other hand, it is not weakness to allow a couple more minutes playing a game.

General rules might include:

  • time limits and curfews
  • an understanding of what language is acceptable
  • guidelines on where in the home technology can and cannot be used
  • restrictions on what websites, games and apps can be used
  • agreement on what to do if something of concern happens.

Safeguard 2 – Stay Current
Parents should increase their knowledge base as needed.

Staying current does not require parents to become technology experts. It involves being across what children generally do on the internet, staying current by learning:

  • what devices can connect to the internet
  • when those devices are connected
  • where kids are going online and what programs and games they are using
  • who they are connected to.
  • Parents stay current by talking to their children and other adults, seeking advice or asking questions from teachers and schools, and seeking information online.

Safeguard 3 – Use Management Controls
Parents have a right to know where their children go and who they communicate with.

Most schools have software or programs designed to monitor online activity. They do this because they have a duty of care for students. Parents also should have systems in place.

There will be those who claim that using monitoring or filtering software is ‘spying’ on children. Am I spying on my teenage daughter because I want to know where she is going with her friends on Friday night and who will be there? Of course not. I need to know this to make sure she is safe. When children become adults, they will not harbour a grudge; they will thank their parent for caring enough to monitor their activity and most likely do the same with their children.

Parental controls work on a device or account to monitor or control information or activity. A variety of programs is available and some can be downloaded for free. More common functions include:

  • blocking concerning websites
  • setting time limits and ensuring curfews
  • recording web sites visited
  • recording conversations in certain programs
  • limiting the downloading of particular apps
  • notifying a parent of concerning activity.

If parents start using monitoring or filtering programs early, it will become a part of their child’s online world. They will be accustomed to it at home, just as they can expect to encounter it at school and then in the workplace.

Warning – Filtering or monitoring software should never be relied on as a total solution or a replacement for broader parental oversight.

Safeguard 4 – Communicate
Create an environment of openness about technology and talk about it with your kids.

This is one strategy every parent can achieve and is the most important and effective safeguard against online issues. It is powerful to tell children, ‘If you have a problem on the internet, or even if you make a mistake, I want you to talk to me about it and I promise I will help you solve the problem so you can keep having a good time online.’

Healthy communication about technology occurs be seizing the opportunities:

  • Take time to chat to children about what is happening online, even just ten minutes a day during school drop-off or pick-up.
  • If you notice an unusual facial reaction after looking at a screen, ask what was that all about and is everything okay.
  • Have a chat around the dinner table about what is happening online.
  • Direct children to and discuss media articles about technology.
  • Never underestimate the value of face-to-face communication. If a sex offender approaches a child online and learns that the child’s family discusses what happens on the internet, they will not hang around.
  • Never stop communicating. Talk to your children, other parents, friends, family and school teachers.

Internet Safe Education – www.internetsafeeducation.com

Online cyber-safety courses for schools – www.internetsafetraining.com

Founded in 2008 by former undercover internet detective Brett Lee, Internet Safe Education programs are designed to equip children, parents and teachers with the skills and tools needed to safely and effectively navigate the online environment. Internet Safe Education has reached over half a million adults and children through face to face presentations and online courses. Internet Safe Education also provides resources and training.

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