As I get ready to head off to speak at another parent Cyber Safety education evening tonight, the news about a forum hosting nude photos of underage girls from over 70 Australian schools has been revealed. No doubt there will be questions tonight from the parents about this horrific story.
Cyber safety educators, parents, police and teachers are understandably shocked and frustrated that the message about not sharing nude photos of underage teens, whether consensually or non- consensually, is simply not being heeded. Australian students are being educated daily about respecting their fellow students, about the dangers of sexting, cyber bullying and about cyber safety, but the message is clearly being ignored by so many youths, resulting in untold harm and distress. Todays upsetting episode is only one of about 4 recent incidents involving boys victimising girls sexually online recently in Australia that has been reported by our media.
With recent studies showing that 1 in 4 Teens think that sharing nude photos is “normal” behaviour what are we all doing wrong? Why are teens still doing this? And not only that, what is driving this almost vengeful exploitation by our young men of young women and girls?
What Is The Solution?
There is no easy solution to this. This behaviour seems like the result from a combination of easy access to pornography, lack of empathy and revenge, mixed in with naive trust and an over sexualised celebrity obsession.
I personally know of cases where parents have actually confronted their children about potential sexting after they saw the warning signs, but their children still went ahead and did it. Teens simply don’t believe, the warnings or care to pay any attention to them.
Many teens are simply not taking this seriously at all. The perpetrators don’t care about hurting others and the victims don’t believe that their intimate photos might end up embarrassing them and hurting them in the longer term.
Teens Being Teens…
Some might say that it sounds like a typical case of Teens being Teens, but the fall out when it all goes wrong can be huge. Lives may be ruined, some of the victims in this latest case have already said they are suicidal. The parents of both the victims and the predators must be distraught. One would hope we don’t get a repeat of the “Boys will be boys” attitude from some of the parents as happened in one recent case.
What can parents do?
- Have a conversation about this story…NOW!
- Never assume that your child WON”T pass on a nude photo or take one of themselves and share it.
- Closely supervise your younger teens and pre-teens phone and computer use. Set boundaries around photo sharing, be clear what is allowed.
- Be very clear about the Law with your child, the criminal consequences of this type of behaviour. www.lawstuff.org.au has a guide.
- Go with your child to check their privacy settings on their mobile devices. Check that they don’t have their school identified on their social media account. Is their friends list on Facebook Hidden from public view. Go to the “Friends Tab” – “Click Pencil” “Edit Privacy” set both settings to the most private setting.
- Turn off location services on their phone camera and other messaging and photo apps through the privacy and location services settings.
- Make sure they don’t share passwords or leave their devices unattended without a screen lock.
- Keep younger kids OFF adult social media sites. 13+ is the legal age.
- If you know of any underage sexting or underage sexing images being posted report them to www.eSafety.gov.au or contact your local police.
- If you feel ill equiped to supervise or educate your child about this type of issue and other online issues, please attend a digital parenting or cyber safety education session. You will gain skills you didn’t think you would require.
Even with all these privacy settings set up there is still NO way to prevent your child being a victim of these type of rings if there is an intimate photo of them on a device or online somewhere. The security and privacy settings may help and must be enabled, but they are not fail safe.
If your children simply don’t believe they will ever be hurt by taking and sharing a nude photo there is unfortunately not much you can do to protect them. We need to focus far more on the hateful predatory behaviour of the boys involved in these situations.
What Are The Police Doing?
The police are investigating this site as there may be underage children involved here. But realistically, if they do manage to find the administrators of this site, which may be hosted overseas, and have it removed, you can be sure another one will be set up in it’s place. The massive amount of publicity this case has gained will, sadly, encourage others to set up the same type of ring. Notoriety fuels copycats.
The people involved in this ring must be held accountable, the images must be removed. But more importantly our society needs to do some serious work on why this is happening.
As bad as this episode is, and it sounds like it’s going to get worse as more schools are found to be caught up in this, I hope that the media attention this awful incident is receiving might wake parents and children up to the fact that we need to educate and supervise our teens far more about the consequences of this behaviour.