I recently went to (probably) the most interesting conference ever at a local university. Among the speakers was psychotherapist Rachel Melville-Thomas, who said so many wise things that I was having difficulty live-tweeting them quickly enough.
On the topic of sexting, Melville-Thomas observed that young people send sexual content to one another in a bid to get attention and, therefore, the question we should be asking is how can we provide them with the attention they want in other areas of their life? She asked us all to make a pledge to replace the phrase "attention seeking" with "attention needing" from that moment hence. I’ll invite you to do the same, reader.
So sexting is, in reality, a self-esteem issue. That’s the first thing to note. In the short term, what young people need is time to reflect on the potential consequences of their actions. By which I don’t mean, "I may get arrested for this and get a criminal record and never be able to get a job", but the emotional consequences.
What the internet does is rob children and teenagers of five minutes to think things through. It is immediate, constant, demanding and urgent. In the words of a teacher well past the traditional age of retirement I chatted to a few years ago: "In my day, if you wanted to send someone a saucy snap you had to take the film roll to be developed somewhere. It took about a week, by which time you’d thought the better of it."
So how do we give today’s young people a checklist to prevent regrets? My organization, the Self-Esteem Team, poses some questions a young person should ask themselves before pressing "send".
- Why am I being asked to do this?
- What would happen if I said no?
- How would I feel if other people saw this?
- Am I comfortable with my message being saved on the internet and going viral? (This means foreeeeever).
If they still want to sext after considering the above, that’s their choice.
My bet is they probably won’t.
So, there you have it: a modern solution to a very modern problem.
Natasha Devon is a mental health advocate. She tweets at @natashadevonMBE
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