Sexting’, the sending and receiving of sexually explicit images via mobile phones or other applications such as instant messaging, email or through social networking sites has, until recently, gone largely unreported. What is concerning about the activity is its rapidly increasing popularity. It was often an extension of ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.’ Explicit images are also often taken when the victim was not in a position to make a good decision, such as at a party where large amounts of alcohol have been consumed.

Females, from as young as thirteen, are willingly filming themselves or readily agreeing to be filmed by their friends and then allowing the images to be sent to other people or posted into cyberspace. Adolescents cannot comprehend, nor are they aware of, the actual consequences of their actions. Once in cyberspace these images can never be erased and can be transmitted around the world in a very short space of time. The reality is that these images could very well find their way onto the computers of those with a predilection to engage in sexual acts with children.

Cyberspace is not age appropriate and emergent behaviours are not developmentally aligned. Parents too must be prepared to discuss this issue with their children, prior to secondary school as these behaviours are regularly seen at Year 7 level. They must also provide adequate guidance as often young people are handed the technology with little or no instruction from a suitable adult. It is imperative that adults embrace technology for the valuable tool that it is and engage with children in cyberspace as well as in the real world. Teachers and other professionals must be educated so that they are able to guide and assist the children in their care. Most importantly, young people must be given the opportunity to gain the knowledge and skills to safely navigate cyberspace, to identify risks and take appropriate steps to keep themselves safe. Cyberspace is permanent. Once images have been posted, they are there forever and no one can get them back. ‘Sexting is like a new puppy… it’s not just for Christmas, it’s for life!

Writer Susan McLean, Cyber Safety Expert, Generation Next speaker and director of Cybersafety Solutions. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.