The headlines like to shock, 'teenagers in nude pic row', 'small town in teen sexting epidemic' ...again today it's being widely reported that in a recent nationwide study a mere 1 out of 5 girls are classed as enjoying a healthy self esteem, social media being in the dock yet again as the root cause. Are we to believe the hype and allow ourselves a knee jerk reaction to this growing problem or see it as not dissimilar to the ' show me yours and I'll show you mine' game from youth?
Firstly we need to understand why it's so popular even with the knowledge that in some circumstances it is against the law. 'Media hype' is correct in its suggestion that it’s practiced by a high number of teens. So, why is this the case? There are many factors that drive this behaviour...teenage behaviour experts have spoken of the natural instinct within young people to behave in a risky fashion; to explore their sexuality, discover their adult selves, break rules, feel 'naughty'... alongside this, the impact of the humble Smartphone and its never-ending options, like Snapchat and the instant Photoshop opportunities can't be underestimated. But, I think most of all it’s because of the good old craving to be told you're attractive and to feel desired, narcissism in all its glory - of which we are all not immune. All at a time when hormones are raging and there's this burning ambition to just 'fit in' and be popular.
If we delve a little deeper into other studies centred around the subject, there are other interesting finds that give us a deeper insight into the teenage mind, which fuel my ' PSHE teacher brain'. According to stats, 3 out of 4 teenagers truly believe that any pictures they send that are considered sexy or sexual will only ever be seen by the recipient. Naive perhaps, but we have to see it from their viewpoint - that it’s being sent to a person they see as being trustworthy and because they are still learning about relationships, their inexperience can be their undoing. Rather than displaying a cavalier attitude to their privacy and decency, is what is actually happening within the realms of 'normal' sexual experimentation? The survey goes on to state that out of the teens who partake in sexting, they perceive what they are doing as not being wrong and that it’s their choice... and apparently I discovered that cases of pictures being shared without permission were rare and unusual. However I'm sure that there are many cases that aren't reported due to the nature of the problem and the fact they would not want the police to get involved, or parents to find out.
I see the problems with sexting as being when young people are coerced or pressured to take and send sexual photos of themselves with the direct intension of being shared and their privacy abused. This is where the dangers lie with this issue and it can leave vulnerable individuals, normally girls, becoming victims of truly horrible experiences that can have far reaching consequences into adulthood.
So, yes, education is badly needed to make young people aware of all sides of this issue, including the law and where they stand should they take a picture, send it or worse share it. Ultimately, teenagers will always have a natural inclination toward this kind of behaviour, but at the very least we can be sure that they will be making decisions with all the facts and their complexities explained to them.
Below are some suggestions to the help you quickly get to the heart of the issue during lessons and spark classroom debate.
1. Be clear...Respect the law! Respect yourself and respect others (you could be breaking the law if you share)
2. Understand the consequences of your actions, imagine your 'worst case scenario' - think twice before pressing send. Question your actions.
3. Get the students to ask themselves 'what do I want to achieve from this?' ...could I get my desired outcome another way other than sending sexual pictures?
4. Finally, be realistic. Will sending pictures really bag the boyfriend/girlfriend of your dreams? The chances are probably not. If they respect you they will not ask you to do it. Never be talked into doing it!
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