This week, it was revealed that Blennerville National School, near Tralee in Co Kerry, agreed with parents in the school, that it was time to put a ban on digital device access for students. There had been a number of incidents revolving around the access and sharing of inappropriate content and Cyberbullying. The ban on devices at home, is an 11-week pilot programme. What we would describe as a Digital Detox, only for the children in sixth class. This decision is similar to one we have been promoting in National Schools for some time now that children should never be given a ‘Smartphone’. We had been anxiously waiting to see a community who would come together and formulate a plan such as this in Ireland. A first step on this path has been publicly taken by a school and parents. We would hope that all parents would look with great interest upon it, and follow-up and try this themselves.
‘Sexting’, described as the sending of sexually explicit messages, through digital devices, primarily the mobile phone. A relatively new phenomenon, with the saturation of digital devices over the last few years there has been a marked increase in those who will openly admit sending in explicit or inappropriate image to another’s digital device of themselves. The concept can sometimes be difficult for adults to grasp that children might engage in this type of behaviour. However, a study released in 2016 showed that Irish teens were the fourth most prolific senders and receivers of ‘Sexts’ in Europe. Many young people see it as a normal behaviour as everyone is doing it.
By their very nature children will experiment, show me yours and I’ll show you mine, combine this with a latest trend of selfies, on top of the current negative celebrity role models who frequently post near and sometimes completely naked images of themselves, then you’re bound to have children who will not see the harm in Sexting. Children have been found to have sent ‘Sexts’ to people they only met online, they are Sexting boyfriends or girlfriends or potential companions. Some of the teenagers are sexting out of peer pressure. Many just do it for fun.
A number of Apps have also really contributed to the escalation in this type of behaviour among children and teens. Snapchat, which was openly referred to as a Sexting App has become incredibly popular with young users, despite the 13-year-old restriction. This App encourages the taking of Selfies and sharing of the images. What the App also leads the users to believe is that the image is deleted after a set time period. With this knowledge in mind children who are natural risk takers will undoubtedly engage in a behaviour if there is little or no chance that they will get caught.
What may seem as a bit of fun, taking a picture of their bum can quickly escalate and get out of hand. As there are Free Apps that can save an image to a device without the sender’s knowledge the receive may retain or worst case scenario forward the image to others. This can have a disastrous impact on the sender. Users fail to realise the gamble they take once they send an explicit, or inappropriate image.
There have also been instances where young children getting changed after a match taken and the image forwarded, can you imagine the impact that would have. Any image forwarded by can have a terribly negative effect on a person’s self-esteem, their reputation and may have deep psychological consequences for the victim.
Sexting has also given rise to Revenge Porn, this occurs when a consenting couple who have exchanged images while involved in a relationship break up and one of them decided to release the images to get back at the other. Again this can have an incredible negative impact on the victim.
Teens and young children who take, share or even have these types of images get a serious shock when they discover that the images are in fact illegal. The production, possession or distribution of images of a sexual nature of a child are considered Child Pornography in Ireland.
Some Advice for Parents
- The number one priority here is communication with your child. They have to feel confident enough to be able to have an open conversation with you without a fear of reprisal
- As a parent when you decide to provide a device to a child you need to set down ground rules and understand what type of behaviours are acceptable and what is not acceptable when using the device
- Discover does your child understand what Sexting is, have they heard of it happening in their school. Even at Primary level we are seeing children telling us they are aware of this happening
- Remind them that once an image is send it is there FOREVER
- Help them understand that they should never send an image that they might not want their Grand Parents to see
- If they ever receive an unsolicited image make sure they understand that it is ok to tell a trusted adult
- Have they ever received a Sext, for younger children an inappropriate image
- Have they ever sent a Sext, for younger children an inappropriate image
- Do they understand the permanence of an image and that there is NO CONTROL over where the image may end up
- Using real life examples of the consequences of Sexting may help, we have a number of videos on this topic available on our You Tube Page https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL8eU6qs3Yu9ODW9nXYWRCyIexhcniw6gx
- Help them understand that they may end up bullied and cyberbullied
- Help them understand that may leave themselves open to be blackmailed or Sextorted as a result of sharing one image
- They may be prosecuted for the production possession or distribution of the image, and always remember that a deleted image on a device can always be forensically recovered in the case of an investigation