Parents Corner Blog

Is sexting a taboo topic in your home?

It shouldn’t be. As much as we would like to think that our children are using their phones to play games and message their best friends, the reality is that sexting is quickly becoming a social norm amongst teenagers. Sexting, a combination of the words ‘sex’ and ‘texting’, refers to the sending or receiving of sexually explicit messages or images via a mobile device.

There are a few reasons why the topic of sexting shouldn’t be avoided in your home. We will focus on the two most important reasons that we think you need to know. Firstly, any photo that is sent between two people can quickly become public if it ends up in the wrong hands, which can lead to emotional distress or a tarnished reputation. More than this, if the photo happens to end up online, it will be there for a very long time, regardless of whether or not you delete it.

Secondly, and on a more serious note, it is illegal for children under the age of 18 years to send sexually explicit images of themselves to anyone in South Africa. As stated in the Films and Publications Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act, it is illegal to produce and share any image of an individual represented or presented as being under the age of 18 years of an explicit or sexual nature. According to Joan van Niekerk, Chairperson of Childline South Africa, children over the age of 10 could be charged under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act or the Films and Publications Act as amended, for sending and receiving sexts. As stated in a paper published by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention it is clear that the intention of the above mentioned legislation is aimed at prosecuting adults and not children. The paper goes on to explain how the legislation was promulgated in order to prosecute adults who possess, create, distribute or produce child pornography, however, due to the nature of the legislature, child perpetrators can be criminalised for something they may not fully understand or grasp at a young age. One could argue, in this case, that the law may need to be altered in order to adjust its impact on children who cannot yet fully understand the consequences of their actions.

Given the severe nature of the consequences applicable to a child perpetrator, van Niekerk stresses that parents need to be advised not to give their child a mobile phone without having the full knowledge of what the phone is able to do. Furthermore, van Niekerk suggests that communicating with your children about the dangers and benefits of technology is essential when introducing your children to the mobile world.

Our advice to concerned parents would be to talk to their children, keep lines of communication open and discuss the benefits and risks of being online. A topic for discussion could be that while technology encourages creativity, communication and interactivity, it can still be dangerous when used carelessly. Most importantly, we advise that any parent should be willing to talk freely to their children about issues they may face instead of lecturing them with hard facts.

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