What if your daughter is sexting?
WITH MICHELLE MITCHELL
DID you know that 49 per cent of young people have sent a sexually suggestive image and 67 per cent of young people have received a sexually suggestive image? I want you to take away two things from these statistics – sexting is a serious issue but a very common one. If your daughter has sent a nude image remember she is not the only one who has done so. Remember too that teenagers can recover from doing so. It is not the unforgivable sin. I actually think it can teach them a huge amount of resilience and self-protection if dealt with properly. While some teenagers say that sending a nude image was exciting and thrilling, there is no such thing as safe sexting. The consequences of this type of sexual experimentation can’t be ignored and there is definitely a gender bias when it comes to the consequences associated with this issue. I often see girls’ reputations damaged in a split second while guys walk away relatively unscathed. I see girls humiliated, violated and at times even blackmailed with nudes. The digital footprint that potential employees can now uncover (for relatively few dollars) is absolutely scary so yes, it is very concerning. Parents, this is what I want you to do if you suspect your daughter might be sexting. Simply ask a very direct question (without a lot of warning or lead in time). “Have you ever sent or received a naked picture?” A direct question gives a teenager zero wiggle room. It also gives parents the best indication as to whether their child is lying. Once you know what you are dealing with you can respond thoughtfully. Lots of constructive talking to a young person goes a long way. This will help them reflect, evaluate and learn from the experience. Keep as many positive in their lives as possible. Unless there are safety issues to consider, don’t limit her access to her friends or her usual positive activities. You also need to reinforce your need and desire to protect her by saying no to potentially dangerous environments or making any changes you need to ensure her safety. One example that comes to mind is if sexting has happened in a teenager’s bedroom at night, perhaps social media needs to have a shut down time and remain out of her bedroom. The Difficult Questions These are some of the tougher questions that parents ask me, which I am going to answer with the help of great resources like www.esafety.gov.au Can teenagers or parents recover nude photos? When it comes to recovering nudes, you can do your best but there is no guarantee that you (or the school or even the police) can retrieve or delete them. Schools and police may carry a bit more weight when it comes to retrieving photos but even then, there are no guarantees. What are the legal issues relating to sexting? When teenagers sext, it is a criminal offence because it creates child pornography. It is illegal to ask for, take or create, receive and keep, be in possession of, send or upload a sexually explicit image or video of anyone under the age of 18, even if they are your boyfriend or girlfriend and even if they approve of you doing so. The penalties can include jail sentences and sex offender registration. The police may choose to charge youth with a less serious crime, send them to youth counselling, give them a warning or caution or let their parents or school decide on the consequences. Police are more likely to press serious charges when the incident involves harassment or threats. When should parents contact the police? Definitely contact them if your daughter is in any danger, being bullied or threatened or if an image has been spread without her consent. Many parents go to the police in the hope they will be able to retrieve photos, which in some cases police will assist with and other times they are unable to. When should parents contact the school? Schools must report incidents of sexting to the police and they will have their own internal policy on associated punishment like expulsion or suspension. It may only be necessary to disclose an incident of sexting if it is likely to become public, impact their education or you needed the school’s help to retrieve photos. When should parents contact other families? I personally would be very cautious about contacting other families unless you have reason to. Every situation is different, but it is critical that parents parent their own child not everyone else’s. If there is a need to contact another family my guess is that the incident would be serious enough for the school or police to be involved, and therefore you could leave that job to them. What about boys? This issue impacts boys just as much as girls. Please involve your sons in the same conversations. Most of our boys are respectful when it comes to the opposite sex. A few aren’t. Boys need to know that adults who push for nudes within a work environment could be accused of sexual harassment and potentially lose them their job. Michelle Mitchell is the Founder of Youth Excel and the author of Parenting Teens in the Age of a New Normal. For more parenting tips visit www.michellemitchell.org