Tweens and Teens Digital Worlds: Sexting

Tweens and Teens Digital Worlds: Sexting

In this article we discuss the potential dangers associated with sending, requesting, and redistributing explicit images. It is a complex arena, nuanced and challenging and there are many reasons for tweens and teens to sext online. This can include peer pressure to conform to the behaviours of their friends who are sexting; exploration and curiosity which is normal for teens at this stage in life where they are exploring their bodies and their sexuality and of course the fact that our teens and tweens are much more likely to engage in impulsive behaviours due to the fact that the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making and impulse control, is still underdeveloped.

Some teens may engage in sexting as a way of satisfying their curiosity about sex and relationships. Teens in romantic relationships may use sexting as a way to express their feelings and desires to their partners, especially if they are physically separated and sexting can create a sense of intimacy and emotional connection between two individuals. Teens may use it as a way to feel closer to someone they care about. 

Posting explicit images or messages online can lead to validation and positive attention from peers. This can boost a teen’s self-esteem and sense of popularity. Sometimes, teens may feel pressured or coerced by a romantic partner into sexting. This can be a form of digital abuse or manipulation. Many of our teens do not fully understand the potential consequences of sexting, such as the risk of their explicit content being shared without consent and the fact that it remains online or on a device indefinitely.  

The widespread availability of smartphones and other devices with easy access to messaging and social media platforms makes it convenient for teens to engage in sexting and the influence of Media and Pop Culture including movies and television shows, often portray sexting as a common and even glamorous activity, which can influence our teens’ perceptions and behaviours. Apps such as TikTok are notoriously dangerous for our tweens and teens with inappropriate content easily available and unmoderated. This includes content of a sexual nature. The continued exposure to such content (or any inappropriate content) normalises it for our teens. 

It is crucial for our tweens and teens to be aware that sharing nude photographs of individuals under the age of 18 (even with consent), including themselves, is against the law and can be considered child pornography.

However, introducing this topic in a stern manner may alienate our children and elicit feelings of fear or shame if they engage in such behaviour or do so in the future. Instead, it is advisable to begin with simpler aspects and gradually address the more challenging aspects. Engage your child in non-judgmental conversations centred around trust and consent. Discuss what actions to take if someone solicits their photo, threatens them, or if they encounter the risks involved in sharing explicit images of others.

Engage in a conversation with your children regarding their responsibilities as a friend, supporter, and observer. Explore the concept of sharing or spreading explicit photos of a fellow pupil, a friend, or someone on the internet. Ensure the safety of your kids and others by promoting the avoidance of such actions and urging them to speak up or report to a trusted adult if they encounter it. Initiating this discussion with the importance of consent emphasises that it is not their role to determine who has the right to view someone else’s body.

Research shows that children are being approached online to share explicit images as early as 9 years old. Therefore, it is crucial to begin engaging in discussions about this subject as their curiosity grows, both in the online and offline realms. Expand upon previous knowledge related to staying safe online, forming online friendships, and maintaining digital privacy. Take into consideration the emotions these encounters might evoke and take a moment to breathe deeply before initiating these challenging dialogues. Approach the conversations calmly and without judgment, starting with small steps.

Establish a secure environment to facilitate ongoing conversation. Engaging in these discussions during a time when our children are receptive to learning from us can enhance their comprehension of the situation and reassure them of our unwavering support. Even if you believe they already recognize your backing, initiating these conversations can significantly impact their willingness to share their experiences with you, particularly in challenging situations.

We are available to parents for any conversations around this very challenging and potentially damaging behaviour that can have long-lasting negative effects. 

SYDNEY SAMAKOSKY AND AMANDA VARKEL

Supporting Emotional and Educational Development (SEED) Department Further Readings:

https://www.childlinesa.org.za/teens/for-teens/issues-affecting-you/sexting-is-no-joke https://www.saps.gov.za/child_safety/parents/sexting.php https://www.lawforall.co.za/family-relationships/dangers-of-sexting-in-south-africa/ https://www.mobieg.co.za/cyber-safety/sexting/ https://www.justice.gov.za/brochure/2020-CyberBullying.pdf

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