RAMPANT “sexting” – the culture of sending and receiving nude images – is a major problem among students, a Catholic school principal said.
Bundaberg’s Shalom College principal Dan McMahon has joined a chorus of school community concern over the issue, after a student’s photo was “digitally altered by another person in a suggestive and offensive way”.
He was told boys often sent suggestive photos of themselves to girls in order to “warm them up”.
“It is the new form of dating ritual. This is a way of saying ‘hello’,” said Mr McMahon, who found sexting widespread among Bundaberg youth and decided to address the problem in the college’s weekly newsletter.
He also made it clear this issue was not isolated to Shalom or Bundaberg.
“It was one of our female students who had discovered that a picture she had posted online had been digitally altered by another person in a suggestive and offensive way,” he wrote.
“That was bad enough but she went on to tell me that it was quite a common experience for her, as a fourteen-year-old, to have social media requests from boys from Shalom and other schools around Bundaberg, to provide them with a nude or semi-nude photo.
“Some of the boys making the request were at least a couple of years younger than she was.
“This is not just a boy problem. It would seem that it is not uncommon for girls to send unsolicited photos to boys.
“It would appear that sexting is rampant and is now seen as a part of a ‘normal life’ for our children.”
The Federation of Parents’ and Friends’ Associations of Catholic Schools in Queensland also tackles sexting in its latest website post.
“Parents are panicking about teens’ sexting and it can be a hard topic to navigate,” educator and trainer Catherine Gerhardt wrote.
“According to a recent ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority) report 13 per cent of 16-17-year-olds said they or a friend sent photos or videos to someone else, while 18 per cent of 16-17-year-olds said they or a friend had received photos or videos of someone else.
“… It’s just not the case that everyone is doing it; however, those statistics feel very high if your child happens to be in the catchment area of those statistics.”
Child and adolescent psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, who sits on the board of the National Centre Against Bullying, does not discredit social media as a way to “promote a sense of belonging and self-esteem” among adolescents, however he warned what was posted online was permanent.
“Several Australian teenagers who consensually filmed themselves having sex before distributing it online were later charged under child pornography legislation and have been added to the sex-offender register,” he said.
“Unfortunately, their online actions will now have consequences that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.”
Dr Carr-Gregg has also written about the link between social media, depression and suicide.
“… What young people write on their social media profile can be barometers of their mood and mental states, and that we ignore it at our peril,” he said.
“What we do know is that many young people who end their lives do suffer from depression, and that while not all depressed kids kill themselves, it is an important risk factor.”
Ms Gerhardt said as teens progressed through high school they could feel more and more pressure to engage in sexting.
“For girls, it is often the pressure around not being seen as a ‘prude’, or even the expectation to look or act like their friends do,” she wrote.
“For guys, it’s often pressure from peers around humour and just having a joke, to feeling the pressure to have girls send photos to prove to friends that girls are throwing themselves at them.”
Mr McMahon said Shalom College had offered a lot of input on being good digital citizens and the importance of having a strong moral compass.
“Those messages do not seem to be getting through,” he said. “Parents, we need to upskill ourselves in this area.”