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Sexting common among teens – ‘Parents have to play their part in the responsible use of phones’

Cause for concern: “Phones are here to stay so how do we use them properly?”

PARENTS must take responsibility for young people using their smartphones, including cracking down on rampant teen sexting, a Catholic education leader says.

“Phones are here to stay so how do we use them properly?”  Catholic School Parents Queensland executive director Carmel Nash said.

“Parents have to play their part in the responsible use of phones.

“Schools can’t be responsible for everything.”

Sexting – the practice of sending and receiving sexually explicit images or messages – is under close scrutiny after New South Wales last week decriminalised sexting between consenting teenagers.

The legal change is in line with recommendations contained in the final report of the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse.

In other states, including Queensland, teenagers who transmit intimate photos of themselves or others ­still face penalties under child pornography laws.

Sexting has become an increasingly common practice among Australian teens.

Research by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner shows nearly one in three children between the ages of 14 and 17 had experiences with sexting during 2016-17.

As Queensland grapples with how to protect teenagers from sexting, the state’s Bar Association has asked parliament to enshrine defences for young people who send and receive intimate ­photos.

“It is an injustice to young people who engage in consensual sexting that they are liable to being forced through the criminal justice system and, potentially, on to the Child Protection Register,” the Queensland Bar Association said.

“Kids make mistakes, as did teenagers forever. It doesn’t make it right, but kids make mistakes,” Mrs Nash said, pointing to a Queensland anti-cyberbullying taskforce report released in October.

The report contains 29 recommendations, all of which have been accepted by the Queensland Government.

They include a call for social media sites to better manage and detect bullying on their platforms and improve weak privacy settings, and the development of various awareness and education campaigns aimed at youth, parents and carers.

Anti-cyberbullying taskforce chair Madonna King said the most important recommendations demanded ongoing input from children and parents.

“So many mums and dads told us of the need to make change. Teenagers said the same,” Ms King said.

Madonna King

Taskforce chair: Madonna King.

“This is a whole community issue and if our recommendations are implemented, parents will receive the assistance they want, schools will be better set up to investigate complaints and our focus all along – our children – will be safer.’’

Initially, $3.5 million will be spent on cyber-bullying awareness and education campaigns as well as investigating ways to better block, monitor and detect bullying online.

One of the most contentious issues surrounds the banning of smartphones in schools.

The taskforce leaves the issue to parents and principals to decide.

“Different rules in different schools,” Mrs Nash said.

“I mean, some kids use their phones in class for classroom work. Sometimes phones are used in that way.

“It’s about responsible use of the phone, and I think a lot of this stuff (sexting) is happening outside school time, so it’s up to parents. How they manage that is a really tough question.”

The NSW Government said the new legal protection for sexting among teens “reflect current understanding about normal sexual development and experimentation among teenagers”.

It means individuals under the age of 18 who are exchanging sexts with other teens of a “similar age” will no longer be open to criminal prosecution.

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