The recent SBS series The Hunting, highlighted the devastation caused by a nude photo scandal and the subsequent ripple effect this had on the students, parents, teachers and the school as a whole. It is a stark reminder of how ill prepared we all are for these incidences, as highlighted by the arbitrary way that all involved tried desperately to make the situation go away. It is a also reminder of the many lessons we can learn. I have friends who have watched this series as well as many teachers and schools that I have been working with recently who are also feeling frightened and fearful at the thought this could possibly play out in their own immediate families and schools.
As I am often saying however, when we parent or teach from a place of fear we do ourselves, our students and our families a disservice. Sure, it is a scary thought that our children should go through something like this. But we must instead use this as another way to learn and grow. To educate ourselves, our kids and our schools and put ourselves in the best position to not only prevent this from happening, but to have the support, skills and processes to follow should situations such as this, continue to occur.
Here are some ‘take aways’ we need to take heed of, so we can all endeavour to do better.
THEY WILL MAKE MISTAKES
For the parents of Dip, their shock and shame at her sending a nude photo to a boy was something they were not only ill prepared for but something they found very difficult to forgive. When she reached out to her mother for comfort she did not get it from her and she was forced to endure that shame on her own. If a child make a mistake online, they must know they can continue to get the right help and support they need and ultimately learn from those mistakes. We have handed them this world of social media that many of them are just not cognitively or emotionally ready for. We cannot then shame them or berate them for not having that development and understanding to be able to deal with the challenges that arise for them. If you are not going to have those conversations about the consequences of our actions online….. then we cannot be surprised when things go wrong. But even when we do have those conversations, we still know that things go wrong. We need them to know we will be there for them if they do.
WE HAVE NO CONTROL OF OUR AUDIENCE
Be it a teacher, parent, friend, grandmother, sporting coach or potential employer…can we think of anyone we don’t want to see that comment, photo or video? Because once we put something online we must remember we have zero control over what happens with it. Even a text message or email between 2 people. Once online we no longer have any control over who sees it, copies it, forwards it, screenshots it or shares it. As I say to the students I work with….”if there is one person in the whole world you don’t want to see this photo, video, comment ….then don’t hit send.
CAN WE SAFELY SEND NUDES?
This is a contentious issue and one that is often debated amongst experts. Is there any way of sending a nude safely? It was mentioned in the series, “I can’t believe you showed your face?”. Certainly not showing your face is going to be safer and the chance of being linked to that image is reduced if there is no proof it is you. But shouldn’t we just not send them in the first place? Sure. But many kids still are and still will. So do we continue to simply urge them not to? Or do we at least ask them to make better choices about how they do that? We also have the impending doom of apps that can easily change heads and faces and put them on other bodies which means we lose control all together of our images online! Either way, let’s have the discussion, because we know kids still place too much faith in the words of the receiver who “promises they won’t show anyone else”. Until they invariably do.
A LEAKED PHOTO IS NOT THE END OF THE WORLD
Granted it isn’t a favourable moment to be laughed at, embarrassed or ridiculed if a photo happens to find its way online of you and is subsequently shared by all and sundry. It’s humiliating and devastating. But I think it is so important our kids know, that whilst the immediate effect is horrific, it will be forgotten. They can also take steps to remove the image. If the platform, app or network does nothing to remove an image within 48 hours of a request, you can go to esafety.gov.au and request the photo be taken down. They have the power to investigate, override the platforms and have the photo removed, which they have successfully done many times. Granted there is a lot of damage done already and not getting that photo out in the first place is the best option….but for those times when the horse has already bolted, I think it’s important young people know they have options. It doesn’t have to be the end of the world…and in the vast scheme of things…it will be forgotten.
SCHOOLS, PARENTS AND STUDENTS ARE STILL NOT PREPARED
I think the way they all dealt with this issue highlighted for me that there is still plenty of work to do, both with teachers, schools, parents and students. The teacher taking the phone home and using a password to get in puts both himself at risk and is not something that should be common practise. Whilst some students said they could see this happening, others reported to me there is no way their teachers would do that. So we have situations that are not clear cut in their processes and responses that are haphazard at best. Also the different approaches by teaching staff as well as the Principal reminded us that they were all thinking on their feet with no real policy or process to follow. Similarly the parents of all the students showed little understanding of how to best help their children, aside from trying to mop up the damage. Buying a new laptop to escape any consequences was not the answer either.
We still have a way to go in teaching both our sons, our daughters, our schools our teachers and ourselves as parents. The issues of privacy, gender, misogyny, sexuality, online exploitation are all issues that were exposed as needing urgent attention via this one singular scandal. Whilst our laws are slowly catching up and you will no longer be charged as a paedophile or put on the sex offenders register if you have consented to send or receive nudes, it is still against the law to share or threaten to share those images. So use these shows and look out for real life teachable moments to engage in the conversation .
And here are a few questions to get you started….
- How would you respond if someone asks you for a nude?
- What would you do if someone sends you a nude?
- What do you do if you see an image of a friend or peer circulated online?
- When, if ever, has a person earned the right to your private information or photos? How do you know they are trustworthy?
- What do you understand about consent?
- What does it feel like to have our trust broken?
- What happens to that information, that story or that image if someone betrays you? Do you become gossip? Fodder for a sleazy website? What steps could you take if this happened to you?
- Why is it so important our online behaviours are a reflection of our real life values? What can be the consequences of not living positive values, empathy and trust?
- What are the laws around sharing and consent when it comes to online images?
- Who is the person you would turn to if things got out of hand online or if you felt anxious or scared? Who are your helpers?
If you would like me to work with your school or community to help with any issues of growing up in a digital world, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org