Sexting 3

What young people think...

Teenagers know more about technology than most adults do. So keeping them safe is difficult as well as vital.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/MrPants

Once again, my evening has included a couple of “phone extractions.” This is where I separate my 14 year old son from his mobile phone.

His phone has a camera on it. Most phones do these days. The camera phone has now become an intrinsic part of teenage social life. The wide availability and affordability of smartphones, as well as apps like Instagram and SnapChat, have seen to that.

So what do we know about camera phone dangers?…

I’ve written about sexting before (why it’s not sexy & what we can do about it)

Research by the NSPCC and the UK Safer Internet Centre sheds some light on sexting and what teenagers think about it.

They conducted 12 focus groups in 3 different counties, speaking to 120 young people in year 9 at school (13-14 year olds).

What’s great about this research is that it tells us about what young people themselves think and feel about the “digital life” and it’s dangers.

What do young people think?…

Here are the main findings from this age group (quoted verbatim from the report):

  • The prevalence and “mundanity” of sexting – this is something that is widely known among this age group and while not all are engaging in such practices, they have peers that are.
  • The difference in gender – girls would generally self generate (take photos of themselves to send) as a result of a request from a boy. Boys would self generate unprompted in most cases.
  • There is resilience among this age group – many young people have developed coping mechanisms to issues that might arise, due in most part that these things are dealt with by their peer group.

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  • This age group fear being judged for the things they do and this is one of the main reasons they will not turn to adults if something has gone wrong. They know it is “wrong” to do things like self-generation but if things do go wrong they want support and understanding rather than reprimanding. They feel they are more likely to get the latter rather than the former from adults.
  • Young people of this age do not think that teachers are there to care or look after them and do not trust them to share emotional problems.

    Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/JamesBrey

    Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/JamesBrey

  • Sexting does not necessarily happen in isolation, it can be related to other online issues such as cyber bullying and draw from influences such as celebrity and pornography.
  • Pornography is frequently viewed by boys of this age, and while they acknowledge there is potential for harm, they do not feel they are affected themselves. Girls of this age will generally not look at pornography, and view it as a negative influence on boys.
  • Young people are willing to discuss these issues and want to learn about them in school but don’t get the opportunity.

(Source: NSPCC & UK Safer Internet Centre)

Part of the landscape…

Such have been the developments in youth culture in recent years that sexting is now part of the deal. It’s just another of the many pressures young people face.

What’s heartening is that young people want to learn. But they are struggling to know where to go to find out about these issues.

This raises practice issues for those of us working with teenagers. I would recommend the following:

  • We need to be more familiar with the technology – the best teachers might be the young people themselves…
  • We can help young people by taking the initiative to raise these issues with them and by providing opportunities to discuss them
  • We should be mindful of the gender differences outlined above, without being too rigid in our expectations of boys and girls respectively
  • We must resolve not to respond judgmentally or harshly when young people get into trouble around these issues – it’s now part of the landscape for them; they need help and guidance not finger-wagging.

I’m sure there are other things that would help us better serve young people – please comment below or click here to add your own thoughts.

Get Jonny’s FREE e-book “Connecting with Troubled Young People” here…

Finally…

Whilst we may not understand as much as our kids about technology, we know about danger. And it’s our job to teach them how to stay safe.

If nothing else, we need to urge them to report anything that they are even slightly worried by online.

They can do so by clicking the red button, like this one, where they see it. Or by visiting CEOP and clicking the button there.  Report abuse

Need more information?…

  • The NSPCC have also issued guidance. You can access this here.

Related previous posts…

Here are some previous posts on the thorny subject of online safety for teenagers:

Pass it on…

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© Jonny Matthew 2013 (updated March 2017)

The source for the young people’s feedback in this piece is “Sexting: an exploration of practices, attitudes and influences.” Available here.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Hi Jonny, It’s interesting to note that in my experience young people don’t even recognise the term ‘sexting’ they think it is just another form of communicating with their peers. Do you know where the term emanates from?

    • jonnymatthew

      Hi Ian, No, I don’t know where it came from. I’ve found the same issue though – young people (including my son!) didn’t recognise the term. May be its a clever tabloidism? J.

  • Natalie Walsh

    I think the term sexting is something a newspaper has picked up and used, for many of the young people I know and even older people it seems to be part and parcel of normal text conversation. Even as an adult I personally have given my number to a potential date and received the first message as frontal nudity. The problem with trying to explain to youngsters that this process is exploitation and bullying to some extent, is that, those who are not much older than them do it as a matter of course. With women using their sexuality to enhance their careers and gain publicity it seems to be an OK form of communication for the younger generation. Celebrities like Rhianna have removed themselves from Instragram due to not being able to post naked images of themselves. Bruce Willis’ daughter took to a topless protest against the Instagram rules. So where are the lines of normality for our young people????

    • jonnymatthew

      Completely agree, Natalie. We have to see the whole issue through new eyes – young people exist in a completely different digital environment than have previous generations. Thanks for commenting! Cheers, J.

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