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Experts helping to battle the negative impacts of social media on vulnerable young people

Paul Ninnes
Protecting young children: Paul Ninnes. Photo: Emilie Ng.

INCREASING human dignity was key to protecting young children from hypersexual online content, Real Talk managing director Paul Ninnes said.

Research by Real Talk demonstrated children as young as 12 had shared nude images of themselves, resulting in those pictures being shared online without their consent. 

“I’ve had a parent crying on my shoulder at a parents’ night because their daughter in Year 7 had passed on images of herself to her boyfriend in Year 9,” Mr Ninnes said. 

“It happened because she was vulnerable because she was on her device late at night and the boyfriend had been hassling her and she just, in many ways gave up.”

Mr Ninnes said the negative effects of sharing this kind of content were far reaching.

“The research around this is trending poorly for young people unfortunately.

“The negative effects would be that in children there seems to be a trend where both intellectual development and also psychological happiness is trending downwards with increases in technology use. 

“Broadly speaking, as young people use more and more technology it’s not improving their learning – in fact it’s showing that often negative impacts on learning – and also negative impacts on psychological wellbeing. 

“It must be said though that this doesn’t mean that every child who uses a device is going to be affected in a terrible way – but the trend and correlation is that with large amounts of tech use it can really affect the development of a young person, in some ways their peace and happiness.”

Mr Ninnes said digital use was still a new phenomenon and arguably one that people were not sufficiently equipped to deal with responsibly. 

“Tech use varies, and there is varied research – in some ways the research is probably only early days because the increase in digital use is a relatively new phenomenon and there hasn’t been a lot of longitudinal studies,” he said.

Major problem: “It’s about decreasing the negative effects of digital media and increase the virtues in young people.”

“Technology’s not bad; it brings a lot of good things. However, overuse and misuse is where the problem is. 

“In my talks I like to use the analogy of a swimming pool.

“A swimming pool is a good thing. It brings us lots of good time, lots of joy, and lots of happiness. 

“But a pool with no fence can be dangerous and lead to a lot of bad things. We need to think about technology like that. 

“Exposure rates of pornography in children are extraordinarily high. 

“Twenty per cent of Australian teenage males say they started watching porn at aged eight or younger. 

Mr Ninnes said the passing on of consensual images of a sexual nature among minors was now legally deemed as child pornography. 

“Every week in every school there’s sexting happening. High school would say that the passing on of child porn, which is what sexting is, passing on of illegal content of naked young people – minors – is happening every week in Australia,” he said.

Speaking to parents and teenagers about that can help bring it into the reality of what it is, he said.

“It’s such a common thing that young people don’t think about the repercussions and don’t think about it in proper (legal) terms,” Mr Ninnes said. 

At its core, Mr Ninnes said the problem of young people sharing nude images and engaging in sexting was a human dignity issue.

“At its core … It’s a personal issue. 

“There are legal and psychological ramifications, but the most important factor in this that it is a human dignity issue. 

“It’s looking for validating, love, God, identify, self-worth. 

“It’s a lack of solid personal identity; a lack of solid understanding of self that allows people to go down these paths. 

“In our work and in our encouragement of parents is not just to create safeguards but to increase the self-worth and the understand of dignity in young people and increase the character and essentially the cardinal virtues that increase the things that underpin healthy decisions and healthy interactions with young people. 

“It’s about decreasing the negative effects of digital media and increase the virtues in young people.”

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