Teens need to think through the consequences of sexting

LAST column I talked a bit about the power that we had placed in our kids' hands in the form of mobile phones, and the challenges for them and for parents in handling this power.

Especially when we lack the wisdom to use it well.

One specific concern around this is the phenomenon of sexting.

For the uninitiated, sexting is when you send words, images, or video footage of an explicit sexual nature.

Beyond a dirty phone call, it is possible to send imagery of nudity, erogenous zones, or even sexual activity.

Now among mutually consenting adults, this is fine.

If you lack mutual consent, then this can be considered to be sexual harassment.

A certain amount of discretion and trust is required in order to prevent imagery from "going viral" and being broadcast publicly.

Could you imagine sending a nude photo of yourself to someone in the workplace that you liked, only to have them share this with everyone around the office?

Have you ever heard of people getting some revenge after a relationship break-up?

And they may have a storehouse of saved up imagery ready to broadcast.

But we also have kids who have discovered this amazing new ability.

Now, this may come as a shock to some, but teenagers can often spend a lot of time and energy thinking about sex.

Relationships and sex, popularity and sex, acceptance and sex, school and sex, work and sex, parents and sex… okay, perhaps not that one.

So natural, sexual expression can move into the realm of social media and other communication.

But why? Why would a teenager or young person send sexualised imagery of themselves?

Firstly, because they can. Plain and simple. Like anyone caught in the throes of sexual passion who forgets to use contraception… it just feels right at the time.

And can have some very serious consequences.

One area where the law, arguably, has not yet caught up is around obscene publications, child sexual exploitation, and the sexualising of children.

If a boy or girl, under the age of consent, was to send a naked photo of themselves to another, whether for individual or public use, technically, they have published and distributed child pornography.

As naive (as it would be difficult to describe such behaviour as "innocent") this behaviour is, such an act could unwittingly place a child in serious legal trouble.

Furthermore, if another person was to receive this information, and thinking it funny, send it on to another person, have they just been responsible for the distribution of child pornography?

There is a real difference between a kid dumbly sending a sexy picture of themselves to a boyfriend or girlfriend, to a pedophile using child imagery as a means of gratification and build-up towards predatory sexual acting out towards children.

Yet, under the strict letter of the law, such a distinction may not be seen.

The risks are huge.

And there are already young people out there today, having been through severe legal process for engaging in sexual behaviour that these days may be considered "normal" by the tech-savvy generation.

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