WATCH: In part one of our series Cyber Smart: Keeping Your Kids Safe Online, we look at the prevalence of sexting and how to discuss it with your kids. April Lawrence reports.
Smart phones are a part of life for most teenagers with social media often their primary form of communication.
“People don’t ask for each other’s phone numbers anymore it’s like what’s your Snapchat? Let me add you,” said student Maddy Morrison.
A group of students from Royal Bay Secondary agreed to share an inside look at how teens are using social media and they didn’t hold back, even when asked about sexting.
“Basically everyone I know has either sent one or received one from somebody else, it’s a pretty common thing, parents watch out,” said student Erik Hansen.
A recent study found one in four teens between the ages of 12 and 17 have received a sexually explicit photo, message or video. One in seven have sent one. Teens call them “nudes” and say most people use Snapchat to exchange them because unlike texting you can set a timer to have them disappear.
“Just don’t send it to people you don’t trust, that’s kind of the rule of thumb,” said Hansen.
Web experts say the prevalence of teen sexting shouldn’t come as a surprise.
“If our society is becoming digital, if our relationships are becoming digital, it makes a lot of sense that sexual expression is going to become digital as well,” said Brandon Laur who runs internet and social media safety company Personal Protection Systems.
But in the digital world, mistakes can last forever and teens are aware there are risks.
“A girl sent her whole body and face to her boyfriend and when they broke up he sent it all of his friends and the whole city had her picture and what are you going to do?” said student Marina Cabral.
Experts say telling your teen simply not to send nudes isn’t the answer. Instead treat sexting like sex and teach them the risks and how to stay safe.
“If you are going to do it make sure your face isn’t in the picture, make sure there’s no scars tattoos or jewelry that are identifiable to you in the picture, make sure you’re not wearing any clothing identifiable to you in the picture,” said Personal Protection Systems co-founder and retired police officer Darren Laur. “You now have deniability, you can say that’s not me that’s someone else,” he said.
There are also legal implications for sharing explicit images without consent. In 2013 a 16-year-old Victoria girl was convicted of child pornography after sending out nude photos of her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend. That conviction was appealed and eventually overturned.
Since that case a new law has come in targeting the non-consensual distribution of intimate images. It means anyone, no matter the age, who shares explicit images without someone’s consent could end up in jail.
If teens do get into trouble with explicit images, they say it’s important to know they can go to their parents for help.
“Instead of being mad at them, show support, okay you did that, let’s learn from your mistakes and turn the situation around,” said Cabral.
And they say while sexting is a new reality worth talking about, most kids are using social media to do what teenagers have always done ? hang out and make each other laugh.
Online resources for parents:
Government of Canada Get Cyber Safe