When tragedies hit our communities, there are two ways of looking at things. We can sit back and think how terrible it is that this is happening, or we can use the experience as a learning moment and an opportunity to work towards change.
On January 27th news was released about an alarming sexting case at Newtown High School. The story talks about how, in May last year, more than twenty students were involved in the distribution of nude and sexually explicit photographs of classmates. It also specifies that three of those students have been charged with child pornography as a consequence of possessing and selling those pictures. For The Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education this is a tragedy, because we understand the permanent life consequences not only for those who have been charged, but also those whose pictures were distributed.
Sexting and internet safety is one of the scariest subjects for parents to address these days. As if it wasn’t already difficult enough to navigate the complex world of the teenage years, now there are new challenges because the way our kids are communicating has changed so much due to technology. For parents, catching up with new apps is almost impossible. Yet providing an adolescent with some sort of instrument that connects them to the internet is a necessity, just as much as it was necessary to learn to read and write in the past. For many of us, sending nude pictures to others seems totally out of the normal boundaries and a misuse of a privilege.
However, it is not uncommon. Key findings from the Women’s Health Psychology Lab study conducted by Drexel University in 2015 on adult sexting behaviors say that out of 870 heterosexual adults who answered the survey, 88% had sexted at least once in their lives and 96% endorsed the practice. In an article named “Why Kids Sext,” published in November 2014 by The Atlantic magazine, there are several examples of the difficulties law enforcement faces managing these types of cases. It also sites “a recent study of seven public high schools in East Texas found that 28% of sophomores and juniors had sent a naked picture of themselves by text or email, and 31% has asked someone to send one.” One very possible explanation of why kids do this is that behavior itself forms a part of normal sexual exploration, just like the older generation shared the hidden playboy magazines with their friends, or went as far as exploring each other bodies in private settings.
The curiosity and rush caused by this type of exploration is part of normal human development. The difference today though is that when a picture is captured and sent, there is no way to control what happens with the picture after and the legal and psychological consequences for everyone involved can be devastating. These cases bring out the worse of human nature and judging, name calling and harassment are the typical responses of uninformed people.
Here are five things you can do as a responsible adult:
First, be a role model and don’t do it yourself. True it is your private life and it shouldn’t concern anyone, but guess what? Once that picture is out, it is not private anymore.
Second, understand that as a parent, you are the most important part in this equation. No school or friend will ever do your job, so you need to become educated on this issue and don’t wait for others to tell your kid the implications of sexting. The only effective tool you have to guide your kids through the complicated ever changing technology world is good communication, trust and support. No parental control software will ever replace that. Have the conversation today.
Third, when talking to your children, more than panicking over the serious legal consequences (being charged with possession of child pornography and possibly ending up in the child molester registry for example), talk about the emotional consequences of distributing these pictures. Explain, how participating in this kind of behavior affects real people and how the future can change in a moment. An even more scary fact is that distributing these pictures gives easy access to real adult child molesters.
Fourth, if you don’t know what to do or how to talk to your child about it, seek help. The Prevention Education Department at The Center provides a series of prevention education presentations in the community both targeted to youth and adults that address this issue in detail. Become an active participant of the solution; ask your school and community centers to host these programs.
Fifth, if you learn that a child you know has been involved in this kind of problem, be supporting in a non judgmental way and report it to the police. If you have any doubts about what to do, call us, we are here to help.
Ivonne Zucco is the Executive Director of The Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education.
The Center is a non profit organization who’s mission is to provide counseling and support to victims of sexual assault and to eliminate sexual violence through community wide education programs. Prevention presentations, counseling and advocacy are available to the public free of charge. Visit our website for more information www.thecenter-ct.org or call our office at 203-348-9346 for more information.