Some time ago, the mother of a graduate girl turned to me. After the quarrel, her daughter’s “first love” threatened to publish photographs and correspondence of an intimate nature if she did not return to him. The scandal was hushed up only when parents from both sides got involved.
Many teenagers who are in love or imitating popular characters on the Web send their ambiguous photos without thinking that all this can be used against them. Modern technology has helped raise a buzz around an age-old problem, but at the same time have exacerbated it by providing new means of influence.
Teenagers literally “live” on smartphones and social networks, and those who care about their safety need to know about the most common situations that can be harmful.
“Sextion” and “revenge porn”
Our dictionary has already included the concepts of “abuse”, “harassment”, “victimblaming”. Now new terms can be added to them, born in the English-speaking environment, but explaining the sad practice spreading in many countries.
Medical examiner and clinical psychologist Abigail Judge defines neologisms.
“Sextion” means coercion or other means of obtaining compromising photographs or information from teenagers with the subsequent threat of their exposure in case of refusal to engage in sexual activity. “Revenge porn” is the publication of unintentionally made explicit photographs of a person without their consent. Both can have serious psychological and social consequences for the injured party.
Modern technology creates conditions for the abuse of power. Even if teenagers have an idea of healthy relationships, they probably spend a lot of time on social networks and instant messengers. They can lose their vigilance and allow themselves to behave impulsively and recklessly.
“Realizing your sexuality and its impact on others can be confusing,” the expert said. “Combined with limited experience in relationships, this sometimes leads to teens not knowing when another teen’s behavior is becoming overtly coercive.”
In addition, the victim is often ashamed, finds it difficult to confess to others, and therefore many are silent about such problems.
How to talk to teens about sexual blackmail?
We teach our children to cross the road to the green light and not enter the elevator with strangers. Now, perhaps, there is a need to explain to them the rules of security in the digital space, including the protection of very private information. Abigail Judge has put together a cheat sheet for parents who don’t know how to approach a sensitive topic.
1. It is important to initiate a conversation with teenagers yourself. Even if they roll their eyes and defiantly close their ears, they still listen to us – this has been proven by research. The general rules for talking to teenagers also work here: listen more, talk less, maintain an open-minded and open attitude, and ask questions.
2. The study of one’s own attractiveness and sexuality is normal in adolescence, the psychologist recalls. And “sexting”, that is, the exchange of candid photos in instant messengers, can become one of the manifestations of puberty. For a parent who finds this out, this does not mean that the teenager is a “pervert” or has necessarily already become a victim of coercion. But this is a reason to start talking about security.
3. Coercion often happens gradually, Judge notes. First one request, then another, and step by step it becomes more difficult for the victims to refuse. Because of this dynamic, they can feel like they are complicit in the process. By talking about how it works, parents can help their children not feel guilty about being forced.
4. “Sextion” and “revenge porn” can lead the victim to big problems. They can lead to bullying and harassment, which in turn will cause very strong feelings in the teenager. In some cases, parents who protect the victim should consider restricting access to digital media, the expert said.
five. The task of parents is to ensure that the rest of the teenager is well-off, to take care of his mental health. Observe for other factors that increase his or her vulnerability to unhealthy relationships. Trauma, family conflicts, domestic violence, social isolation can be reasons for increased attention to the condition of a teenager.
Features of coercive behavior
When explaining to a daughter or son the mechanism of possible manipulation, parents should consider two main components:
- Power imbalance. It can manifest itself as a difference in age, social status, intelligence. If parents find out that a teenager is in such an unequal relationship, they should find out what they are built on, what the child likes about this person and how friends react to such a connection.
- The alternation of bad and good treatment. Periods of loving and caring can be followed by control and anger. This reinforces unhealthy attachments.
Any coercive relationship is deeply painful and difficult to discuss. If the parents communicate freely with the teenager and leave the opportunity for dialogue, they can warn him of the dangers or provide help if the bad has already happened.
The victim’s shame may prevent them from seeking help, but parents are able to assess the situation from an adult perspective and, if necessary, consult with professionals.
About the expert: Abigail Judge is a clinical and child psychologist and forensic expert.