'Harmful intentions': Children younger than 12 are pressured to engage in sexting

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"A risky behaviour". (Getty Images)
"A risky behaviour". (Getty Images)

"Sexting is becoming 'normal', but young people are maybe not aware that it is a risky behaviour," explains Dr Mara Morelli. 

She recently shared the findings from a global study on sexting that she conducted with a team of researchers from the Sapienza University of Rome and the University of Huddersfield in the UK. 

Morelli says the research, which included data from more than 11 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, found that 40% of young people have engaged in sexting. 

While sexting has become "a new expression of sexuality" for the young, Morelli says, teens also engage in sexting with "harmful intentions". 

"This kind of sexting is usually related to other aggressive and violent behaviours, such as bullying, cyberbullying, and dating violence," she says. 

Also read: 'Looking the other way is no longer an option': How to talk to your teen about sexting

Children younger than 12 are pressured

The data Dr Morelli shares is even more alarming, considering the research shared by Arizona State University

Including responses from more than 1000 pupils, the US study showed that children younger than 12 are pressured to engage in sexting. 

According to the US study, 2.1% of respondents said they had been pressured into sending a self-produced sexual image, and 13.7% had been at the receiving end of an unwanted sexting image.

"Our study underscores the need for comprehensive sex education to begin at an early age and include age-appropriate information," the authors said. 

'Not talking about sexuality and sexting...'

Dr Morelli believes parents should be the first source of sex education for their children. 

"Not talking about sexuality and sexting makes parents think they are protecting their children, but the opposite is true," Dr Morelli advises, adding that open communication with their children is the best way for parents to address the potential harms of sexting. 

"By talking with their children, they have the opportunity to discuss the positive and negative aspects of sexting, making their children more aware of their behaviours and emotions," Morelli notes.

'The consequences'

Educating your child about sexting should start at an early age, says Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg. It can be as simple as reinforcing the idea that their bodies are private. 

"They should never be forced to share it with anyone," van Zwanenberg says. 

The psychiatrist also says parents should teach their children that it is illegal for someone to request a sext from a child. 

"Talk to your child about real-life examples where private images or videos have been shown to the world and the consequences of everyone seeing,"  Dr van Zwanenberg advises. 

Also see: Help! My 13-year-old stepchild is sexting: What do I do?

Put it into perspective

In their book Selfies, Sexts and Smartphones: A Teenager's Online Survival Guide, which covers everything from teen dating to cyberbullying, local authors Emma Sadleir and Dr Lizzie Harrison share rules applicable to almost every aspect of digital life. 

Here are three simple strategies by Sadleir and Harrison that parents can share with teens and tweens to put sexting into perspective. 

The billboard 

Before you make anything digital, consider this, would you be comfortable if what you're about to digitise were to somehow end up on a billboard with a picture of your face and name next to it? 

It can't be undone 

No matter how tech-savvy you are, you have no way of knowing where your digital content will end up. 

"The. Screenshot. Is. The. Devil." 

Taking a screenshot could not be easier and literally takes seconds. They're dangerous because, whether you've shared content or not, anything that exists in digital form can be duplicated and then shared across platforms, with or without your knowledge. 


Share your stories and questions with us via email at chatback@parent24.com. Anonymous contributions are welcome.

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