Sexting might not have been part of your life growing up, but it is certainly part of your children’s.
It is usually just about them exploring, building relationships and having fun, however it can have serious consequences.
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When I worked at the Sex Crime Division at the WA Police a large majority of my time was spent working with victims and offenders of sexting. Usually it started quite innocently as a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship but when the relationship ended, images were shared without consent.
I often found that both the victims and offenders were unaware of the laws around sexting, their rights or their responsibilities. When the parents were contacted by the Police they were horrified and unsure where to get information or help for their children.
At Family Zone I am using my experience to help parents be proactive in all things cyber safety to provide you with skills for prevention, instead of damage control. Nobody wants their child to fall victim or be the offender of a cyber crime.
You might feel awkward talking to your kids about sexting, but in this modern world it should form part of your chat about sexuality. It is really important that as adults we help our children know the dangers and how they can be safe and respectful online. This is the Birds and the Bees discussion for today’s families.
10 tips for parents on sexting;
- Have open and honest conversations with your children
- Don’t abstain from educating your own children about sex and sexualized behaviours. If you don’t educate them, somebody else will
- Do not assume that your child will not pass on a nude photo or take one of themselves and share it
- Discuss the risks of sexting including how they would feel if their photos were shared
- Be very clear about the law & criminal consequences with your children
- Discuss their digital footprint and what that means
- Explain their digital citizenship responsibilities
- Warn your children to never share photos with people they don’t physically know offline. Consider providing examples of grooming and pedophilia
- Attempt to explore if these behaviours are part of a bigger problem with self-esteem & confidence. Like everyone, children like attention and reassurance but as parents we need to help our kids find healthier ways to feel good about themselves.
- Ensure they know who they can talk to and where they can get help if needed. They may not want that to be you, so ensure they have a safe person to confide in.
If you want to know a bit more here is some further information about sexting to help you educate yourself and your children;
It is very common for children to find it difficult to consider the bigger picture of this type of behavior, and for parents to become very frustrated as the answers seem so clear. But the reason is that teenagers are working with brains still under construction. Their prefrontal cortex (the part responsible for decision making, risk taking, problem solving & knowing consequences of actions) is the last section of their brain to develop, which can still be under development until their early 20s. The result of this is they need your help to make healthy decisions, problem solve and understand the possible consequences of their actions.
It is important to teach children that how they are expected to behave in the real world is exactly how they should behave online too. For example you wouldn’t walk down the street naked so don’t do it online as your image may very well be viewed by everyone in the street, school or city!
These images can become part of your child’s digital footprint and stay in the public domain forever. It’s important your kids understand that once you send a photo you have lost control and risk it being forwarded on and shared.
Teach your kids what their digital footprint is and how difficult it is to alter this once their pictures are out there. Perhaps consider providing examples, a quick google will provide you with many real life examples.
Teenagers may need help to understand how they would feel if a picture is shared, such as humiliation, guilt, and depression. The result is often significant embarrassment that affects their ability to do ordinary things like go to school or play sport.
The risk of sexting turning into cyberbullying is also a consequence teenagers often fail to consider. You can help them see that something that started in a personal relationship can turn nasty once others are involved.
Sexual predators & grooming
Possibly the most important thing to discuss with your children is the dangers of predators on the internet. Again because of their brain development they find it difficult to understand the significance of this danger & are more vulnerable to grooming of predators. I can’t stress enough how important it is to teach kids about sexual predators and to never send photos to somebody they don’t know. They may not be who they think they are and could use your child’s images for pedophilia or for blackmail purposes to get more photos or money.
Respectful relationships & Digital Citizenship
Again it’s important to reinforce the expected online behaviours here, meaning what is expected in the real world is also expected online. Digital Citizenship is about how you treat yourself and others online. Be respectful and expect respect.
It is important that your children know the law when it comes to sexting.
While working for the WA Police I found that not many kids or parents were aware of the fact that if your child found themselves a victim of these offences, often they were also an offender as per the below legislation;
It is an offence under the Western Australian Criminal Code to take a sexually explicit image of a person under the age of 16 years. Additionally, it is an offence to encourage persons under the age of 16 to take sexually explicit photos of themselves. The penalty, under the Western Australian Criminal Code, is up to a maximum of 10 years imprisonment.
Further, it is an offence under the Commonwealth Criminal code to send a sexually explicit image of a person under the age of 18 years.
You could be charged with a criminal offence if:
- You take a nude, semi-nude, or sexually explicit photo of a person under the age of 18, even if they agree to the photo being taken or if you take photos of yourself.
- You take a photo or a video of a person under the age of 16 involved in sexual activity or posing in an indecent sexual manner, even if it is of yourself.
- You are found to have this kind of photo or video on your phone or other device (e.g. laptop or iPhone).
- You forward this kind of photo or video of a person under the age of 18 onto others.
Penalties for possession or distribution of child pornography, under the Commonwealth Criminal Code, are up to a maximum of 15 years imprisonment, with higher penalties (up to 25 years imprisonment) for aggravated offences. Young people (under 18 years) could be charged for taking or sending a photo or video of someone under 18 years, even if all people involved provide consent.
As you can see Sexting might be more complicated than you first thought, BUT it doesn’t have to be. At Family Zone we believe it takes a community to raise children and we are here to take the complication out of cyber safety for you. All you need to do is have open & honest conversations with your kids and we’ll help you with the rest.
By Jessica Hill, Family Zone
Jess is a mum of two and recently came on board at Family Zone after she worked as an Intelligence Analyst for the WA Police for 9 years. During that time she was placed in the cyber area of the Sex Crime Division where she dealt with families and victims of cybercrime, and her passion for cyber safety developed. “I couldn't believe the enormity of cases in sexting, grooming and paedophilia that I dealt with on a daily basis. One of the common themes I saw was parents overwhelmed & not knowing what to do. I really wanted to get involved in a prevention role where I could help families protect their children. Family Zone is this and more!!” Cyber Safety Sorted!