A 13-year-old girl is left humiliated after a picture intended for her former boyfriend is circulated among her peers, a teenage boy faces questions from police after being caught with the photo and two sets of parents are bewildered that this could happen under their noses.
It’s an all-too-regular situation confronting schools and parents as more WA children – some as young as 11 or 12 – become involved in “sexting”.
Perth cyber safety expert Robyn Rishani, founder of Your Kids Online and who has spent the past three years visiting WA schools, said despite children as young as eight or nine having smartphones, many families remained oblivious to the risks.
“You wouldn’t let a child go to a casino or adult shop or pub but we’re letting them chat to strangers online,” Ms Rishani said.
Sexting – the consensual sharing of intimate images between children of a similar age – has become part of life for teens amid the rise of apps such as Kik Messenger and Snapchat.
“At one school I visited, a 15-year-old girl sent a sext to her boyfriend and it ended up on a porn site,” Ms Rishani said.
“Pictures can end up anywhere, and it can be devastating. Most kids are pretty smart and they aren’t all at risk, but it only takes a little bit of loneliness and curiosity and intrigue to see what’s out there.”
During her school visits, Ms Rishani warns students that their online footprint can haunt them throughout their adult lives. “Teens don’t think in the spur of the moment – they might send a picture to someone and before you know it, it’s all over the place,” she said.
“It can result in cyber bullying and destroy reputations. With a lot of these apps, there is very little privacy.”
Ms Rishani also warns students that they could end up dealing with police, or even the courts, for sending or receiving illicit images.
A WA Police spokeswoman said police tried to deal with the issue by alternative methods, such as cautioning and education, and no juveniles had been charged for sexting.
Ms Rishani will host a parenting seminar at Perth Zoo next month where she will urge parents to be cautious in posting images of their children on social media.
“A lot of parents don’t understand the full extent of how social media and the internet works, and this naivety can get them and their children into trouble,” she said.