Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Sexting among kids on the rise


PUNE: Sujatha, mother of a Standard VII student, was shocked finding “sexual messages” on her son’s cellphone. Going through various messaging apps on his smartphone, she realized that her 14-year-old son had been sending and receiving messages with sexual overtone for a while.

Perplexed how her son would react if she broached the matter with him right away, she called up her husband. “I was at a loss for words. I did not want to give my son the impression that I was snooping on him. I sought the help of a psychologist, who advised me to have a ‘frank talk’ with the boy and tell him about the repercussions of indulging in such things,” Sujatha said.

A recent report published in JAMA Paediatrics, a medical journal of the American Medical Association, analysed 39 studies with a total of about 10,300 teenagers (under the age of 18 years). It found sexting - sending or receiving sexually explicit or suggestive images, messages, or video via cellphones or the internet - had become common in recent years. Though the majority of teenagers did not report sexting, 15% said they had sent sexts, while 27% accepted of receiving them.

The situation is no different among Indian kids, clinical psychologist Ishita Sur, currently based in Atlanta in the US, said. “Such behaviour is highly prevalent among higher middle class kids, especially those hitting the puberty. Children as young as eight are susceptible to sexting,” she said.

So, what prompts children to sext? Sur said, “It could be peer pressure or sheer adventure element on their part. It could also be impulsiveness, the belief that by doing so they will appear ‘mature’ or it could just be the thinking that it is the way of life.”

A 35-year-old IT professional blamed herself and her busy schedule after finding her child sexting. “When I saw some messages filled with sexual innuendo on my child’s phone, I could not help but blame myself,” she said.

Blaming self is no solution. Satarupa Anderson, a psychologist-cum-educationist, said, “More than anything else, parents need to be counselled and educated about the internet use in today’s society as they can play a proactive role in educating their kids about the ramifications of their online behaviour.”

Anderson said sending or receiving messages or images, including nudes, can come back to haunt the kids later in the life. “It can lead to blackmail, extreme embarrassment or humiliation, trust issues and disappointment for family members. Therefore, parents need to monitor their kids and have frank talks with them time and again,” she added.

Having at least one meal a day together can be one of the best solutions to the problem. “Sit together and talk about what everyone did the entire day. Ask children if they would like to share any problems and raise any questions. Take them into confidence and talk to them about various subjects, including the virtual world and topics concerning sexual development, considering that the internet gives children access to literary and graphic material that is harmful,” Ashley Eates, an educationist, said.

Easy and unmonitored internet access could be one of the reasons behind sexting, he said. “Social disconnect and fixation to virtual world are the real problems. We come across kids sitting in a corner and glued to their cellphones even when they have their peers or family members in the same room,” Eates said, adding that it becomes the responsibility of the parents to ensure that they are always available for their children, no matter what.

Psychiatrist Bhooshan Shukla attributes the rise in sexting to early exposure to sexual content and intimacy among children. “Even the sexual overtones in the songs, which they are made to dance during functions are partly responsible,” he said, adding that all these eventually creep into the behaviour of children over time. “Sexting is a part of the bigger problem and we are all to blame for it,” Shukla said. 

Some parents fear that their kids might land in legal trouble if found sexting. But legal experts said those below the age of 18 years are considered “people in need of care and protection” and cannot be prosecuted.

“If the other person who the child is sending or receiving sexts is a major, h/she can be tried under the relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and even Information Technology Act,” lawyer Asim Sarode said.


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