The very thought that one of your children would even consider taking a naked picture of themselves is enough to make any parent sick in the stomach, but is a reality many must either face, or prepare to. So what happens if the unthinkable does happen? By Susan McLean
Don’t yell, scream or panic. Try to remain calm. It is really important to be able to speak rationally to your child at this time (you can be angry and upset later).
Talk to them about your concerns or suspicions and allow them time to respond.
Try to work out how and when this has happened, and who else may be involved. Where are the images now and who may have them? What were the circumstances? Who were they sent to? Have they been forwarded? Are they pics or video (webcam/Skype)? Gather as much information as possible as quickly as possible.
Make an appointment to speak to someone at the school (the counsellor, their home-room teacher, their year level coordinator or the principal) and let them know what has occurred. This is important so that the school can support your child as required. If they don’t know, they can’t always guess what is wrong. Also, if the pics are being circulated within the school, they will need to be involved.
Be aware that in some instances, police may need to be involved and schools do have certain legal obligations in relation to the reporting of incidents. Please don’t keep it from the school because you are concerned about police involvement. Police are the best placed to deal with these things and have tools to minimise the impact. Police also have the ability to retrieve data and trace electronic communication. The important thing is to act as soon as you are aware of the issue, or if you feel that it is beyond your ability to manage the problem, or if lots of people have the pics.
Consider other services such as a GP for referral to an adolescent psychologist. Some kids get over these things quickly; others don’t. Trust your instincts and if your child’s demeanour is changing for the worse, act.
It is imperative that all parents embrace technology for the valuable tool that it is and engage with their children in cyberspace as well as in the real world. Parents should know where their children go and what they do online, the same as in their day-to-day life. Communication is the key, and rules and boundaries about acceptable online behaviours must be put in place. Never threaten total disconnection or removal of technology as punishment for a problem that might arise online. International and Australian research clearly shows that the majority of young people will not tell a parent if they have problems online for fear of losing access. You must encourage your child to tell you about any problems they are having online, or mistakes they have made, without fear of further punishment in the form of removal of access.
The internet and cyberspace are public places. Once images have been posted, they are there forever and no-one can get them back.
Susan McLean is Australia's foremost expert in the area of cyber safety and young people. She was a member of Victoria Police for 27 years and in 1994 took her first report of cyberbulllying involving a group of Year 8 school girls. She has recently been appointed to sit on the newly established Australian Government Online Safety Consultative Working Group.
Extracted, with permission, from Sexts, Texts & Selfies, by Susan McLean (Penguin, 2018).