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Sexting and young people - how bad is it?

19 Nov 15

NetSafe is reaching out to parents in the wake of increased sexting amongst young people.

While sexting has become mainstream and an increasingly popular activity amongst young people and adults alike, NetSafe says it often takes reports of harm the have resulted from the sharing of sexually explicit imagery, messages and images. 

The internet watchdog says reports are often received following the break up of a relationship and one partner chooses to publish photos that we previously considered private. 

“Many young people are sending, sharing or posting online partially nude or nude photos and this can lead to distressing situations,” NetSafe says.

“It is not uncommon for young people to be asked for these kinds of images, ‘if you want to be my boyfriend or girlfriend’ - and children as young as eight have been found to have swapped these kinds of images,” the company says.

Despite sexting becoming commonplace, NetSafe says parents obviously can find it shocking to find such content on devices owned or used by their children. 

“It is important for you and your child to know that this is happening with lots of young people (and adults),” NetSafe says. 

NetSafe says young people will often learn about the concept of a ‘digital footprint’ at primary school. “What you share, post or publish online becomes part of your digital record as it can be very hard to get information removed from online platforms and to clean up your personal profile,” the organisation explains.

“Prevention is the best option at any age. Have a frank talk about the dangers of sharing personal information and sexual images and what can happen to those photos or videos once created and shared.”

NetSafe says using privacy settings to lock down social media accounts, restricting who can view your profile online and being cautious about sharing images is essential. “Sharing naked or semi naked content, even in a trusted relationship, can prove problematic if one partner decides to share those images more widely.

“Difficulties can arise when these photos are shared, as a joke, as a relationship ends, as friends become angry with each other or used to blackmail the sender into posting more explicit images,” the organisation explains. “It is important not to overreact whatever your internal reaction may be.”

NetSafe says parents and caregivers need to continue to support young people when they do foolish things. 

“There is often publicity about role models, entertainers, actors, etc. sharing nude images so over time this activity has become normalised,” it explains. “Young people often don’t have the ability to think about long term consequences, they are living in the moment.”

NetSafe suggests parents contact the receiver of a explicit image directly if they find their child has shared it with someone. However, if the sexual content was shared on social networking sites such as Facebook or Instagram, parents need to report it to the site, as nudity is against those sites’ policies and should be removed.

“Once you share images via text, social media or popular apps, you lose control of that content and images or video can be widely reposted or shared amongst other people,” NetSafe explains.

“If sexual content has been shared around school, the school can provide support and investigate if other students are involved.”

NetSafe advises that if an image shows a child under the age of 17, it can be classed as an objectionable image and someone distributing it may be investigated by New Zealand Police. “Report what’s happened to NetSafe and we can advise on next steps.”

Contact NetSafe if you’d like further help on 0508 NETSAFE.

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