Our Voice: E Safety and ‘Sexting’

Our Voice: E Safety and ‘Sexting’

Unique Voice are focussing on E-Safety for much of this month, a subject which covers many sub-topics. For her first blog of the new year, Sarah focusses on just one of these; an alarming trend among young people- ‘sexting’.

There is no denying that the use of modern technology is forever on the rise. Don’t get me wrong, I love my iphone and would struggle to keep up with emails and updates if I wasn’t able to check my inbox throughout the day. Young people today are incredibly tech savvy and whilst they enjoy the benefits of many modern day electronic devices, there are an alarming amount of teens engaging in a potentially dangerous aspect of this style of communication. I have written before about cyberbullying, and whilst the subject of this weeks blog is connected in many ways, it also stands alone as its own concerning issue.

Sexting is defined as the “exchange of sexual messages or images” and “creating, sharing and forwarding sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images” through mobile phones and the Internet”, and worryingly, up to 40% of 12 to 16 year olds have engaged in it, either by sending or receiving this sort of message.

At an age where many remain sexually inexperienced and perhaps naive, it is easy to imagine how distressing this form of sexual pressure could be. In a recent study carried out by the NSPCC, one year 8 girl commented ‘If they want it [a blow job] they will ask [by text] every single day until you say yes.’

We often hear worrying stories of online sexual predators who target young people, what I think many people fail to realise is that some of those doing the most damage are young people themselves; thus their pressure upon others to engage in sexting doesn’t only occur online, but can also spill over into school and social life.

Ultimately, while to some extent people have the choice to share what they want online, they need to be aware of the dangers this could pose. I have heard of an alarming number of teen girls posting pictures of themselves in their bikinis as their Facebook profile pictures, and while this may not seem like a problem initially, what many fail to take into account is that these images are on line for the long term. Should the picture’s subject decide they would rather delete them, this may not be possible, others could have already copied and saved them. Similarly, many people who do ‘sext’ have found that images they thought would be kept private between themselves and a partner were infact shared among their peers, often with devastating consequences.

Unfortunately it seems that even in the 21st century we live in a world of double standards when it comes to the gender divide. The NSPCC found in their report an alarming contrast between the expectations of young men and women; whilst men are admired and encouraged to get girls to send these sorts of messages, the girls themselves are shamed as ‘easy’ or ‘sluts’ for responding. We all heard the sad story of Amanda Todd last year, needless to say she made some questionable choices but, lest we forget, she was young, naive, emotionally fragile and misguided. She was also not the only young person who has been, or will be, convinced to engage in this act.

It is not only sexual pressure that may be damaging young peoples self esteem here, given the photographic element that is so often a part of sexting, young people are feeling an increasing pressure to look ‘right’, a concept quite ridiculous when we consider the wide range of natural body shapes and sizes (more on that in a later blog I’m sure!) The oppressive stereotypical beauty norms that surround feminine appearance and body image ideals are being enforced as expectations by both parties. Everyone has an idea of what ‘sexy’ looks like, and thanks to the ridiculousness that is much (not all) of the media, porn (we need to acknowledge that some young teens do access this), and the classic ‘twentysomethings being cast as teens in many a popular TV drama’ young people often have a warped sense of what their adolescent and still developing bodies should look like; thus when their own physicalities fail to meet these ideals it can have a crushing effect on their self esteem and body image.

Effectively, those who work with young people need to encourage open and safe discussions about this issue. It’s all too easy to shy away from it as a potentially ’embarrassing’ subject, but surely a few red cheeks are a smaller problem than the jeopardised sexual and psychological welfare of young people. This issue will not go away unless we tackle it, which is just part of why Unique Voice are focussing on E-Safety throughout January.

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