News Sinead Moriarty

Friday 19 September 2014

Checking their phones is lesser of two evils

Published 04/09/2014 | 02:30

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'One in four children' send or receive explicit messages.

When I was a teenager I kept a diary. I knew that it was safely locked away in my bedside locker. I never had to worry about someone breaking into my house, reading it and then telling everyone about it.

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Nowadays, teenagers communicate every feeling and image via phones, iPads and laptops. They are obsessed with sending images of themselves to each other. They know of no way to communicate other than digitally.

So how do we keep our teenagers safe from hackers, stalkers, sex-texters, bullies and anyone else out there who wants to harm or humiliate them online?

The answer is not simple. Sexting is a growing problem in secondary schools and teenage girls are often bullied and humiliated after sending revealing images of themselves to their boyfriends or friends.

Most teenagers assume that if they do take a 'naughty' or 'sexy' photo of themselves and send it to their boyfriend or friend, that they can easily delete it and that will be the end of it.

As 100 celebrities have just found out, that is not the case. You are never safe from cyber bullying or hacking.

In what is being dubbed the biggest hacking scandal in history, nude and compromising photos of over 100 celebrities, including Jennifer Lawrence, were stolen and posted online after an Apple iCloud leak enabled the celebrities' phones to be hacked.

The point is that you are never safe from privacy invasion online. Teenagers must be made aware of this and warned about it.

The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) is taking action to protect teenagers. It has created a new module that deals specifically with sexting. It is part of the BodyRight Programme highlighting sexting, which the DRCC are describing as a form of "sexual violence".

The new module will be rolled out next week in secondary schools in a bid to make teenagers think before they press the 'send' button.

What we need to impress upon our teenagers is that every image they send out is there forever. They cannot take it back. Even if they delete it, it is still available for people to see.

So do we check our teenagers' phones? Do we spy on them via Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Viber?

While it may seem like a violation of their privacy, is it not better to stop them from making mistakes than allowing them to send out compromising images that seem harmless at the time but will come back to haunt them for years to come?

Surely it is up to parents to try to help children make the right choices and to protect them from the world of bullying, hacking and unwanted exposure.

Obviously there is a very thin line between protection and over-protection - but it's one that seems worth crossing every now and then if it stops your teenage daughter from having a nude photo out in the cyber world for everyone to see, comment on, and jeer at for the rest of her life.

Irish Independent

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