Friday 23 August 2019

What can you do to stop your teen sexting?

As UCD investigates allegations of a revenge porn ring, we ask the experts how parents can help their kids understand the dangers of sharing explicit images

Photo posed by models
Photo posed by models

Chrissie Russell

The troubling issue of teenagers sharing explicit photos has hit the headlines once again, as UCD reveals it is investigating allegations that as many as 200 male students were believed to be sharing images of women they'd had sexual relations with.

But experts say that sharing explicit images has become commonplace, even among children as young as 12 and 13. So just what can worried parents do to ensure their kids know the risks of sharing such imagse?

We asked the experts for advice on how parents can talk to their children about sexually explicit texts.

The technology expert

Unfortunately there's no magic button you can press to stop your teen sexting. "There is an app, Selfie Cop, which emails parents a copy of every image or video taken on their child's phone or tablet," explains Evan Mangan founder of "But that's quite draconian."

Instead his advice is that parents arm themselves with education. "A lot of parents don't even realise that sexting is sending an explicit photo, they think it's just a racy text," he explains.

Parents need to familiarise themselves with technology, how easily images can be copied and shared, and the risks like bullying, exposure to porn and porn addiction.

"They need to be able to make children aware that once an image is sent, it's out of their control," says Evan, whose site contains advice for parents.

"A lot of kids see sexting as low risk. But if you asked them would they print out a physical photo of themselves and give to someone they'd say 'no', they don't see that it's the same thing."

He recommends having a family technology agreement, "where you agree certain things about what you will and won't share online, privacy settings and social media risks."

The education expert

This week, Webwise, the internet safety initiative of the Professional Development Service for Teachers, launched a new resource specifically aimed at helping teachers deal with issues like sexting in schools.

"It can be a difficult issue because if an explicit photo of a minor is discovered on a phone, then it comes under the child pornography and trafficking act which means it can't be printed out or shown to anyone," explains Simon Grehan of Webwise.

The new resource package, Lockers, means schools will be better equipped to address sexting as part of SPHE classes.

"We need to encourage teens to talk about consent, trust and respect so they can understand for themselves what the right thing is to do. It's important to get away from victim blaming and just saying 'you shouldn't have taken the photo; there needs to be a wider discussion on trust," says Simon.

The youth expert

"It's not about just saying 'don't do this'," agrees Naoise Kavanagh, online communications manager for youth mental health organisation Reach Out and Reach Out Parents. "Parents need to understand the reasons behind the behaviour and be able to talk about that.

"Sometimes those asking someone to send a picture zero in on vulnerability," says Naoise. "It takes a lot of self-confidence to be able to say 'no', so any conversation around this issue really needs to be part of a wider conversation on building self-esteem, self worth and trust."

The legal expert

Barrister Fergal Crehan says: "One female client only discovered an ex had posted explicit nude content of her online when she did a Google image search for her name after being turned down by a number of places she's been seeking employment," he reveals.

If adults are falling victim to how readily an image can be shared online, then it's no wonder that children aren't grasping the potential dangers of an 'innocent' sexy Snapchat photo or how long that image can last.

Sexting between minors is illegal and could result in prosecution under child pornography laws. Young people need to realise they could face a criminal conviction.

In the future Fergal hopes we might see more legislation specifically around digital images. "The law hasn't moved as fast as technology," he says. "People don't want to go to court because that means more publicity, they want a remedy - for the image to go away."

The psychologist

From an adult point of view it might be hard to understand but there are many reasons teens might sext. "To express commitment, maturity, to get attention, to keep attention, all the normal stuff teenagers have always wanted," explains psychologist Sally O'Reilly.

The technology is new, but the motivation isn't. Recognising that, and being able to have a non-judgemental conversation on the subject, requires parents to deal with their own issues around sex.

"Sexting is kind of like sex itself," explains Sally. "A lot of kids know the basics but they don't know how to talk about it, or negotiate it, or figure out what's appropriate. And this is because not many of us are willing to teach them. Or maybe not able."

Irish Independent

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