Teenagers today are comfortable sharing their lives online. Whether it’s posting photos, updating their Facebook statuses or sending countless texts, they seem to thrive in this new “always connected” culture.
But sometimes being just a click away from others can have disastrous results. Sexting is an example of how one click can come back to haunt teens.
Sexting used to be when kids constructed sexual messages or took sexually explicit, provocative or nude pictures and sent them via text message to another party.
However, that definition has now expanded where mobile phones aren't the only medium for sexting. On the contrary, all forms of social media can be used for this purpose. In the digital world the playground for sexting is growing. From Facebook to Twitter, Instagram and even YouTube, a child is able to engage in sexting.
A survey of Australian high school students has found that sending and receiving sexually explicit images and messages is a normal part of most teenage relationships.
La Trobe university evidenced this in 2014 when researchers interviewed more than 2,000 16 to 18-year-old Australian students as part of a study commissioned by the Federal Government - click here.
An alarming 54% of surveyed students reported receiving a sexually explicit text message and 26% reported sending a sexually explicit photo of themselves.
So what can happen to a child who takes part in 'sexting' activity?
The results for the victim are often disastrous. Aside from the embarrassment and humiliation of having intimate photos shared with a mass audience, sexting can lead to social isolation, relational aggression, bullying and cyberbullying.
In its extreme, sexting also can result in unwelcome sexual solicitations, sexual assault and even violence. Once the photos or string of message begin to circulate there is no controlling who will see them. In fact, sexual predators have contacted some kids as a result of sexting.
What signs should parents look out for?
Parents need to look out for any overt changes in their child's behaviour which may give some clue that they have been the victim of sexting. These may include:
Sudden aversion to socialising with friends
Disinterest or avoidance of school
Self harming behaviours
Dropping out of sports or other recreational activities
Extreme sleeping behaviour (either lots more or lots less)
High anxiety levels showing up as abnormal eg nail biting.
Any other unusual changes in mood and/or behaviour
What parents can do?
It's crucial to talk to your kids about how pictures, videos, emails and text messages can permanently exist in cyberspace. It's important not to lecture but rather have open conversations about personal responsibility, boundaries and how to resist peer pressure.
In school environments, parents should ask them what online and offline processes they have in place to deal with this type of activity. It's also important that parents try to link in with schools as this will not only help expose such illicit activities, but also help them understand (and manage) concerning activity/ behaviour displayed by their child. Ultimately, this will help keep children safe.
For more information about how CyberHound can monitor illicit online activity in schools, visit www.cyberhound.com or call us on 1300 737 060.