The National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds, always a model of calm, worries about going soft on sexting, but she’s also clear that sexting rules need to be consistent around the nation. Sure, there is plenty of consensual sexting, but think about where it’s not and who gets hurt. How do we make sure young people are safe?
There are educational resources, but maybe those dispensing them feel as awks as I do. Lawyer Katrina Marson, who wrote the glorious Legitimate Sexpectations, says young people live much of their lives through their phones, and sexting is not something we should shame them for.
“Instead we need to give them the tools to have those encounters which might occur virtually – boundaries and comfort zones and how that might play out,” she says. “Telling young people not to do it is not going to work.”
Totally. As young people might have said 20 years ago. Marson says we must come to these conversations with openness and curiosity.
“We have a lot to learn from young people about why they might want to communicate like that and what they need to be able to do to make sure that happens safely.”
Murray Lee wrote the book on sexting between young people. Lee, a professor of criminology at the University of Sydney, says large numbers of young people sext and for the most part, nothing bad happens. No-one usually gets harmed in the sharing of these images. It’s hard to get your head around this as a parent, but that’s what happens.
But Lee also points out that sexting can go very wrong, and can also be a way for boys to try to control girls. Girls often see sexts as a gift but boys might see it as a way to apply a bit of pressure, a bit too much pressure. The relationship is, or drifts into, being unequal, maybe coercive, or the image may be passed on to others.
It starts off “consensual” and then things go wrong.
“But I hasten to say a large number of young people will have these images on their phones and nothing will ever happen.”
Here’s some good news for those in an utter panic. Lee’s team of researchers very much found that sexting, rather than always being regarded as part of a pattern of more promiscuous behaviour, can also sometimes be a way of young people exploring their sexuality at a distance – that is without physical contact.
“The exchange of photos becomes a proxy for sexual contact and a way of exploring.”
I knew there was a good reason to support and teach safe sexting.
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