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Cause for Concern: Sexting

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By Amreen Pathan

According to the Educational Development Center, sexting or ‘sex texting’ is the sending and/or forwarding of nude, sexually suggestive or explicit photos or video using the internet, mobile phones or other electronic devices.

This topic of discussion seems outrageous and disconcerting especially in relation to children but the sad reality is that sexting amongst and involving young children is more common than ever.

Studies by the parenting app Jiminy found that more than one in 10 kids with smartphones are exposed to sexting and by the age of 13, this figure rises to more than a third. Most disturbingly, in 2019, the Guardian uncovered that more than 6000 children had been investigated by police for sexting offences with over 300 of those being of primary age between 2017 and 2019. 

Sexting is illegal when it involves anyone under the age of 18 or it is used to harass people regardless of age. By law, even a young person can be charged and registered as a sex offender if they create, receive or transmit a sexualised image or video of a person under the age of 18. This explains the investigation of the primary aged children above.

When I was at school, trends included branded shoes, changing fashion, Tamagotchis and perhaps being gifted with a feature phone (like a Nokia) – even that in secondary school. Now sexting is a trend amongst pupils – one that makes them feel like they belong.

Why is sexting becoming so common?

  1. The most obvious one is that what is seen as acceptable today has naturally changed from previous generations. Naturally, though, this still does not make such behaviours and trends ok.
  2. Just like cyber bullying is on the rise, partly because the consequences are not as tangible or explicit, young children and young adults may find it easier to let their guard down over a device or the internet. Similarly, understanding of the consequences of sexting may be low.
  3. Sexual experimentation and increasing use of and access to technology. This one is probably more pertinent to young adults or secondary aged children.
  4. Peer pressure: peers play a large role in the social and emotional development of young children. Children will often succumb to both positive and negative influences because they want to fit in. A child could therefore be peer-pressured or coerced into becoming involved with sexting somewhere along the way of the sexting chain whether this means sending the original picture, forwarding on a received one or ‘just’ viewing the image.  

What are the effects of sexting?

Sometimes trends truly are harmless; just a way of fitting in to groups and cliques and communities. But the effects of sexting are far much worse.

I am not just referring to the devastating consequences involving the forwarding of the sexually explicit texts or images to others beyond the original recipient but the mental and psychological effects too like self-validation.

Self-validation: this is one of the biggest problems associated with social media as a whole. Images are posted on Instagram for example with a desperate hope of getting as many views, likes and reshares as possible. The greater the number of likes = a greater self-worth and self-gratification.  

Evidence suggests that social media use activates the very same reward zones that are triggered by addictions to chemical compounds (i.e. drugs) in the brain. This is why social media usage has been likened to drug addictions. When one post receives a certain number of likes, the brain feels pleasure. Therefore, the action of posting another image must take place in order to be floored by another ‘hit’. If a sufficient number of likes are not received, this could lead to feelings of worthlessness, body images and general dissatisfaction.

This is one problem of sexting. Putting aside the legal and moral issues for now, sexting is another form of seeking self-validation and worth and a young person involved in the mere act of sexting even without understanding the addiction is vulnerable to negative thoughts and psychological effects.

Further, sexting opens up a can of bullying and grooming worms. Once an image has been sent, retrieval of the data is near to impossible and the chances of it being circulated even without the intent of malice is very high. This means such images could end up in the hands of recipients who could potentially use such images to groom and even blackmail the victim. Victims usually also end up feeling guilt and embarrassment for the actions of others which means there is a great reluctance to seek help. This leaves the victim open to bullying both at school and online.

The devastating story of Amanda Todd highlights the fatal consequences of sexting and its implications including blackmail, grooming, bullying and depression.

Even if the images are not circulated widely, they could still be viewed by family members and friends causing much distress to the child or even adult in question. This is because the individual’s privacy has still been violated and a trust has been broken. Such damage can be irreversible and irreparable especially because of the feelings of shame it could invariably provoke in the victim.

Where can I seek help?

If an adult (non-parent or parent), guardian or child is worried about sexting then Safeline is a well-established charitable organisation that offers both a helpline and counselling services related to sexual abuse including sexting.  

Teachers at schools will also have received some training regarding sexting and online safety, parents, and children should also be able raise immediate concerns with them.

All of this is of course relevant once an issue becomes apparent and concerns must be raised. What measures can be taken however to help prevent a child from getting involved in such a harmful, addictive and implicating issue in the first place?

My top tip number one: avoid giving children a mobile phone for as long as possible! If this fails, then:

  1. Set rules for internet and phone usage such as time permitted for daily/weekly usage.
  2. Ensure that you have access to your child’s phone having explained to them that it is in their best interests and safety.
  3. Have clear conversations about the damaging consequences of sexting. Discussion points should include the danger of taking photos that they would not be comfortable with anybody else seeing or being in possession of, the impossibility of retrieving a sent message, the legal consequences of viewing and circulating such images and of course real life examples too (depending on the age of the child).
  4. Does your child feel comfortable enough to come and talk to you? Keep communication lines open so that a child may approach you with any concerns or questions they may have.
  5. As a Muslim parent, you may wish to discuss the religious aspects of issues like sexting and social media.

The original OG

Never mind sexting, texting itself is a cause for concern. As well as its impact on grammar, language and writing, texting is proven to affect interpersonal skills and impact mental health. This is because despite its convenience (anytime, anywhere) as a mode of communication and socialising, texting can actually induce anxiety.

Why? Because texts are far too open to interpretation without the aid of meaningful gestures like facial expressions, tone and body language.

Similarly, the ‘anytime, anywhere’ can also be stifling and oppressive. Essentially, a person is available at every moment of the day, even when they don’t want to be. There is an inclination to treat every text as important even though it may not be time-sensitive. This is referred to as ‘always on’ culture which according to Dr Grant – an occupational psychologist at Coventry University – means that an individual’s mind is never resting nor recovering and always stressed.

There are countless other reasons texting is considered harmful. But the point here is that when texting is as harmful as suggested by research online, then sexting is in a minefield of its own and must be treated as such: a critical cause for concern.

#Sexting #CauseForConcern #Texting #SocialMedia

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