With constant communication at teens’ fingertips, is there a concern for schools involving ‘sexting’? This article will look discuss the signs to look for in distressed teens wrapped up in this phenomenon…
In 2022, mobile phones are an integral part of everyday life and provide a vital line of communication for adults on the go. These handy devices are also part of a social culture for young people. A recent study showed that children as young as seven now own a mobile phone.
While this may be considered a safety device by many parents, it also opens up dangers to children and young people, including increasing incidents of sexting. Many offenders feel untouchable as the offences are carried out online, but there are sentencing guidelines that aim to tackle online crimes.
Spotting the signs of a teen in distress as a result of ‘sexting’ is vital to giving them the right support, let’s delve into more detail…
What is ‘Sexting’?
Sexting is the act of sharing explicit images or messaging, through a number of digital mediums including mobile phone SMS messages, social media platforms such as Facebook and through messaging platforms like Whatsapp.
In its infancy, sexting was used by consenting adults to share intimacy while apart. However, like most things in the digital world, this has been adopted by young people and is often used for the purposes of bullying or ‘trolling’.
What are the Legalities of ‘Sexting’?
Under UK law, it doesn’t matter if both parties are under 18, it is illegal to share indecent images. Under 18’s can be prosecuted for sharing indecent images to others, even if there was total consent to do so, despite the legal age of consent being 16.
In 2016, legislation was introduced in England and Wales which gave police the power to record a crime if it was found that a person under the age of 18 has been found to have produced or shared graphic sexual imagery.
It is up to police discretion as to whether this is taken further. In most cases, this is not the case unless there is clear proof as to malicious intent or no consent from the receiver of the content.
In other cases, sending sexual content to a minor can carry a custodial sentence of 10 years. Additionally, a caution for sending such content can result in the offender being added to the Sex Offender Register, regardless of their age.
While the law focuses on the sharing of images and videos, the sending of messages in the form of text can be equally harmful. As such, the UK Council For Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) has issued guidelines proposing that, rather than using the term ‘sexting’, the act of sending sexual messages among young people is referred to as ‘youth produced sexual imagery’.
How Common is ‘Sexting’?
Recent studies show that almost 40% of all UK teenagers have, at one time or another, engaged i some form of sexually suggestive messaging. Also, 22% admit to sending naked or semi-naked pictures to another person.
When questioned, 40% of girls said that they have sent messages ‘as a joke’ while 34% do it to feel sexy. A relatively small 12% stated peer pressure as the reason for engaging in sexting.
As the number of young people engaging in this kind of messaging increases, schools are advised to put in place a number of processes and procedures to help prevent sexting and to support young people who have been targeted by sexting as a form of cyberbullying.
Most schools now operate a ‘no phones’ policy whereby children and young people are not permitted to bring their phones to school. They risk having them confiscated if they do.
Professional education bodies have also issued guidance to schools on how to react to incidents of sexting, these include treating the incident as a safeguarding issue to be discussed with the parents of the victim and of the offender.
What are the Damages of ‘Sexting’?
A large number of young people who engage in sexting state that they do so as ‘it’s just a bit of harmless fun’. While this may be the case between two consenting adults, it can cause considerable harm in children and young people, including:
In a lot of cases, sexting involves content being shared between two people. However, it’s not uncommon for such messages to fall into the wrong hands and, subsequently, to be shared on social media.
For teenagers whose lives are ruled by peer groups and social media, this can be devastating and, this was very much the case in 2009 when 13 year old Hope Witsell tragically took her own life after an image which she sent to a boy at school was circulated on social media.
Receiving unsolicited and unwanted sexual images and messages can be incredibly distressing, particularly for children and young teens. In many instances, a young person will not report the receipt of such messages due to embarrassment and fear of getting into trouble.
When sexual imagery falls into the wrong hands, it can lead to problems such as revenge porn. This is the act of sharing (or circulating on social media) naked or semi naked images of a person in order to get revenge, commonly when the other party has ended a romantic relationship.
As well as being distressing for young people, sexting can lead to wider issues. When images are shared rather than just being sent to one recipient, there’s a danger that these images will fall into the hands of criminals such as pedophiles who are often actively looking for such images online.
Spotting the Signs of a Distressed Teen
As we’ve mentioned, many young people are reluctant to speak to a parent or teacher about receiving unwanted sexting for fear that they may, in some way, be blamed for encouraging such material.
For parents who may be concerned that their child may be involved in, or a victim of sexting, there are a few things to look out for:
- Secrecy – The child may appear to be overly secretive when using their mobile phone – for example, leaving the room when a notification sounds.
- Sexual behaviour – You may notice that your child is dressing more provocatively and is using language which may be considered sexual. In cases where sexting has led to bullying, your child may behave in the opposite way by suddenly starting to wear baggy, figure covering clothing.
- Isolation – The child may begin to spend more and more time alone in his or her bedroom and become increasingly withdrawn.
What to do if you Suspect Your Child is Involved with ‘Sexting’?
If you suspect that your child is involved in sexting, make it clear that you are available to them if they need to talk. You can also initiate a frank and open discussion about sexuality, during which you can prompt your child to open up about anything which may be bothering them.
If communication isn’t working, you may have to demand to see your child’s phone to check for yourself for anything that shouldn’t be there. If you do find inappropriate content, you may want to contact your child’s school if the perpetrator is a fellow pupil.
You can always go to the police to seek advice on your next steps if you feel necessary. If your child is being targeted by an adult, there’s a good chance that you will be able to bring criminal charges, particularly if the perpetrator is over the age of 18.
What can start as fun, can lead to serious consequences…
Far from being ‘a harmless bit of fun’, sexting among teens and young adults is fraught with dangers. As well as the risks of bullying and reputation that we’ve mentioned in this article, sexting can also lead to an addiction to pornography and even, in extreme cases, sexual crimes such as rape.
All too often, young people are lulled into a false sense of security when online, believing it to be ‘not real life’. In reality, even when using privacy settings, images and content which is shared digitally can be accessed by anybody who has a basic knowledge of technology.
It’s therefore up to parents and schools to continue to educate children in the dangers of sexting in any form and to ensure that support is available to those who need it.
Please be advised that this article is for general informational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for advice from a trained legal professional. Be sure to consult a legal professional if you’re seeking advice about online laws. We are not liable for risks or issues associated with using or acting upon the information on this site.
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