My sixteen year old son left his mobile phone lying in reach of his three year old brother the other day. When I rescued it, the first thing I saw on the screen was a topless photo of one of his classmates- a girl, but not his girlfriend. I didn’t know what to do so I put the phone up and pretended I hadn’t seen it. But I can’t stop thinking about the image, and wondering how my son got it and if the girl even knows it’s on his phone. I hate to think of my son as some kind of sexual deviant, but the more I think about it, the more I’m concerned that he’s involved with something very wrong.
How can I talk to my son about this? Is it normal for boys to keep images like this? I want to do everything I can to make sure he grows up into a normal man who respects women?
Sexpert, Desiree Spierings BA (Psych) MHSc (Sexual Health); Sex Therapist; Relationship Counsellor; Director of Sexual Health Australia and Editorial Advisory Board Member of Virtual Medical Centre and Parenthub responds:
In terms of normal sexual expression, behaviour and development, we look at what is healthy or okay behavior and what we can expect depending on each age group. And we know that it is healthy for 13-18 year olds to be into flirting, erotica, solitary masturbation, consenting sexual activity and interest in relationships.
However when it comes to porn/sexting/inappropriate sexual behavior, it is important to know that parents need to take charge in order for a child to learn about these things in a safe and controlled way. Just as you teach your children norms and values in other areas of life, such as how to greet people appropriately, how to eat nicely, how to say thank you and ask for things respectfully, you might like to teach your children sexual and relationship ethics. It is really no different, if you want your children to learn this from you and not from the media, their friends, or others, it is very important not to shy away from this, but to also take moments like these as an opportunity to talk and to explain what would be appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. It is really about teaching them what it is all about and how to deal with this as responsible and respectable adults.
If you continue to find anything inappropriate you can take their internet and phone privileges away.
Rather than avoiding a conversation about it, take the discovery of this girl’s photo as an advantage by making it a teachable moment. It is important to know that sex education encourages open and clear communication to provide a foundation for the development of healthy sexual behaviours and attitudes. It does not encourage sex!! Which is what many parents are often afraid of.
Prepare this talk and think about what it is you would like him to take away from the conversation and how he can best take that information in. Having an open attitude where he feels comfortable to ask you more or to tell you more at that moment and in the future is important. Ask yourself what are the lessons you would like him to learn and make sure you make those points. Also remember sex education is not a one-off talk, it is about continuous, age-appropriate education.
In regards to sexting, teenagers are often unaware that they can run foul of the law through their ‘sexting’ activities, and also might not be conscious of the fact that once the images are on the internet, it’s almost impossible to erase. It is important to note that it makes it an offence to access, transmit, publish, possess, control, supply, or obtain child pornography. Child pornography laws aren’t avoided on the basis that both parties are the same age. Which means that a topless photo of your son’s class mate is officially considered child pornography in some Australian states, if the girl pictured is under eighteen years of age.
The laws are different in each state and territory. In some, your child could be found guilty of child pornography or be put on the sex offender register which would greatly affect their future life choices.
Sexting and the law- useful links
- Victorian Government. Sexting. 2014. http://www.vic.gov.au/news/sexting.html
- Lawstuff- Know Your Rights- Sexting: http://www.lawstuff.org.au/nsw_law/topics/Sexting
- Victoria Legal Aid- Sexting and the law: http://www.legalaid.vic.gov.au/find-legal-answers/sex-and-law/sexting-and-child-pornography
- Sexting Fact Sheet: http://www.lawstuff.org.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/14888/Sexting-fact-sheet.pdf
- Young people and Sexting in Australia: Ethics, Representation and the law. http://jmrc.arts.unsw.edu.au/media/File/Young_People_And_Sexting_Final.pdf
- Sexting, children and child pornography: http://sydney.edu.au/law/slr/slr_35/slr35_1/04_Crofts_Lee.pdf
- State Government of Victoria Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. Sexting. 2013. (Cited 18 December 2013). Available from: (URL Link)
- State Government of Victoria Law Reform Committee. Inquiry into sexting. 2013. (cited 18 December 2013). Available from: (URL Link)
- Law Society of Australia. Inquiry into options for addressing the issue of sexting by minors. 2013. (Cited 27 December 2013). Available from: (URL Link)