Sexting can often have legal implications for students
Sexting can often have legal implications for students Will Hunter

Principal fights back against sexting at school

SNAPPED, shared, posted or tweeted, it may seem like just a few seconds and then it's gone, but modern technology can make unwanted sexting a part of life for teenagers.

Today's younger generation is bombarded with a culture of sending and receiving nude images and Shalom College principal Dan McMahon has had enough.

Mr McMahon went public with the issue after a student's photo was "digitally altered by another person in a suggestive and offensive way" and he was told boys often send suggestive photos of themselves to girls in order to "warm them up".

After further investigation he found the sexting issue was widespread among Bundaberg youth and decided to address the problem head-on in his weekly newsletter.

"This is another example of one of the pitfalls of internet use," Mr McMahon said.

"Once an image is sent, the sender has absolutely no control over where it goes, how it is used or who sees it.

"There is not much point wishing this were not so or that the internet would go away -we need to actively engage with our young people as educators and parents to do all that we can to prepare them for the world in which they live.

"Evidence and research from other schools would make it clear that this issue is not isolated to Shalom or Bundaberg."

Mr McMahon said the issue had become obvious in working with students and trying to respond to some of the issues that they raise.

"The distress this causes some students who find themselves receiving unwanted and unsolicited requests for inappropriate images is significant," he said.

"I'm very worried by the pressure issues such as this can have on a young girl's or boy's developing understanding of their sexuality.

"Girls face incredible challenges to maintain a positive self-image in a world increasingly saturated by sexualised images."

While boys and girls will always flirt, sharing unwanted explicit texts or images are not only an invasion of the person's privacy but it's also against the law.

Dr Marika Guggisberg from CQUniversity said while consensual sexting was enjoyed by some people, unwanted texts could have devastating repercussions.

"Unwanted text messages or pictures invade an individual's privacy and can elicit fear and anxiety," she said.

"It's really different from case to case, but there's not a lot of education on sexting or consent.

"It's really important that sex education at school extends to sexting."

Dr Guggisberg said consent must be freely and willingly given according to the Australian code.

"That means if someone is intoxicated or unconscious, they can't give consent," she said.

"Due to the debilitating effects of alcohol this is usually the case."

Mr McMahon said the school would continue to educate students on what healthy relationships look like and how the lack of privacy offered by the internet can affect their lives and their futures - but stresses there is a huge role for parents to play too.

"Parents have to educate themselves on the technology that their children regularly use," he said.

"It is simply not acceptable for parents to say that they don't understand how SnapChat or Instagram or WhatsAp are or how they work. There are good tools available to assist in this area.

"One of the really big issues for parents is to work out how much privacy their children should have in their digital lives. Ideally, young people would be happy for their parents to read or see anything that they post or receive."

Mr McMahon said while what's flirting and what's not is up to individuals, if relationships are based on genuine respect, it is an outstanding place to start.

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