If you are putting off having the sexting talk with your child, the new study by The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) in partnership with Microsoft may be the kick you need. Released yesterday, this new study exclusively looked at content that appeared self-generated by kids under 20 and featured themselves in the video or pictures. While the study does not tell us how many kids are sexting, it does offer a snapshot of what type of content is out there, how it is produced and how it is spread. Ultimately, it highlights the need for parents to talk earlier about sexting and healthy relationships both offline and online.
Over the course of 3 months, IWF examined 3,803 images and videos that met the research criteria. The criteria was “nude or semi-nude images or videos produced by a young person, under 20, of themselves engaging in erotic or sexual activity and intentionally shared by any electronic means.” In the results, IWF teased out content produce by kids under 15 from those 16 -20. According to IWF, the key findings were:
- 17.5% of content depicted children aged 15 years or younger.
- 85.9% of content depicting children aged 15 or younger was created using a webcam.
- 93.1% of the content depicting children aged 15 or younger featured girls.
- 46.9% of content depicting children aged 15 years or younger was Category B (where non-penetrative sexual activity was taking place) and Category A (images depicting penetrative sexual activity, sadism or bestiality) compared to 27.6% of content in the 16-20 years age range.
- 89.9% of the total images and videos assessed as part of the Study had been harvested from the original upload location and were being redistributed on third party websites.
Does all this data mean every kid is sexting or posting provocative pictures? No. What it does is offer some insights on how these pictures and videos end up online. Technology carries both benefits and risks. With kids going online at younger ages, kids may encounter situations they are not ready to handle. One of the ways to mitigate some of these risks is by teaching kids as soon as they have access to the internet about appropriate online behavior.
5 Takeaways for Parents
Do not forget the laptop. In this mobile world, it is easy to forget about the desktop or a kid’s laptop. However, 85.9% of the content depicting children aged 15 years and younger was created using a webcam at home. For young kids, parents may want to turn off the webcam.
Keep computers out of the bedroom. Many internet safety experts have called for a ban on devices in the bedroom and this study adds one more reason to keep them in a central location. IWF found most of these videos and pictures were filmed in either the bedroom or bathroom. Especially for young kids, devices should remain in the kitchen or family room where parents are present to guide their use.
Start talking early and often. When IWF conducted this same study in 2012, they found no pictures of kids 13 years or younger. Within 2 years, they found content produced by very young kids. Once kids have access to the internet, parents need to start talking. The same conversations parents have about private parts offline needs to extend to the online world.
Tell them repeatedly they can always come to you. If someone asks them to do something online that makes them uncomfortable or they make a mistake they need to tell someone. Kids need to understand that it is never too late to tell an adult.
Think carefully before posting images online. This study is a great reminder that once a picture or video is shared online, none of us has control over where it may end up. 100% of the content published by kids under 15 was initially shared on another site and ended up somewhere else. Unfortunately, once this images are shared far and wide it is hard to delete every copy.