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A recent poll of 1,300 teachers found that more than half of them know of their pupils using social media for sexting, according to the NASUWT teachers’ union. The majority of children involved were between the ages of 13 and 16, involving photos of genitals sent and explicit videos shared.
Of course, there has to be a cut-off point for it being okay; namely the legality of the situation, but that’s really only a concern if photos of children and teenagers are being received by people over the age of 18.
There has been discussion around why sexting happens in the first place. Aside from the obvious, the prominence of social media and technology is more prevalent now than it was even for me as a child, let alone when our parents were children. Phones and apps like Snapchat – where photos disappear after 10 seconds max – make it so much easier for sexting to happen. And the temporary nature of the photos makes the consequences seem minimal, because no one can see it apart from the one person it’s being sent to. Unless it’s ‘screenshotted’…
Some children, and even some adults, just aren’t mature enough to deal with what happens should their explicit photos get out. It’s all too easy for someone to promise not to screenshot or share a sext around in order to win someone’s trust, and for it to then to be spread all over school that same night. Once something is online, shared and saved, it’s very hard to get rid of it. And young people may not be aware of the implications of photos of themselves, even if they were sent with no sexual motives, getting into the hands of someone over the age of 18, and the implications on that person if they are caught with it. Children are not being educated enough on just how easily photos can spread across the internet, even if someone promises to keep a photo to themselves.
But if someone’s sharing photos with someone they trust, and there’s no pressure from either side, then what’s wrong with sexual expression and exploration? People, especially children as they develop, seeing their peers bodies will be beneficial in that is makes nudity less shameful. Exposure to ‘normal’ bodies alongside photoshopped models in magazines will prevent young people from comparing their bodies to unattainable standards of socially approved beauty. All of a sudden ‘abnormalities’ or just blemishes and imperfections, that are erased from models photographs, can be viewed as normal, because of the power of shared photos and body exploration.
Also, let’s face it, kids do ‘weird’ things. They do things that aren’t socially acceptable for adults, like running around with no pants on or showing each other their ‘things’. They have an innate curiosity about the world and each other, and finding out about bodies is another part of that. Little Timmy asking his friend what his thing looks like probably isn’t sexual or perverted, it’s just him wanting to know things. Except now, it’s via Snapchat because it’ll disappear after a few seconds anyway. Of course, things can be saved and shared, but honestly, kids are just curious. They’re very unlikely to be malicious towards each other and get a kick out of sharing a dick pic because why would they? That’s done between male teenagers to discuss the size or by an ex for revenge after a bad break-up, or just to embarrass someone they don’t like – not between kids who are learning about how their bodies work.
Whereas, to older children, those probably in puberty and developing an interest in people romantically or sexually, (but who are still definitely minors) aren’t lewd texts just the love letters of this century? No longer are chaperones and awkward first dates the norm; more like Tinder conversations made up of gifs and Snapchat names. Sexting doesn’t have to be a shameful practise, and for teenagers exploring their sexuality and desires, it can promote intimacy and trust in relationships.
On top of that, to discourage the practise can make the children carry that shame into adulthood. We all know about the negative repercussions of enforcing, deliberately or otherwise, negative body image. Clothing manufacturers have been shamed across social media news for slogans like ‘I hate my thighs’ on girl babygrows, there are all kinds of discussions about women being body positive, and the problems with encouraging diets around young children. Isn’t discouraging sexting similar, just it’s shaming sexual desire instead of bodies?
As long as no adults are involved in the messages and everyone is trustworthy with keeping the photos and messages to themselves and it’s all above board, there shouldn’t be any problem with people of any age ‘sexting’. Exploration of bodies and curiosity about them is a natural human instinct, and nobody should be shamed or discouraged from finding out about them. If everything is consensual, then there’s no need to worry; the kids are alright.