Many pre-teens subjected to sexually abusive text messages: PhD

Young girl using mobile phone
Stock image of a young girl using a mobile phone. (photo: burdun / DepositPhotos)

Children as young as 12 to 14 years old already deal with unwanted sexual behavior and sexually abusive text messages, according to Gaby de Lijster's PhD research at Maastricht University. She therefore believes it is important for schools to talk about sexuality in their lessons, AD reports. 

De Lijster's research shows that a third of the girls she surveyed, an average of 14 years old, already faced unwanted sexual behavior. A fifth of the boys said the same thing. This involves sexually explicit comments, forced sex, and sexting - receiving or sending sexual images against their will. 14 percent of respondents said they've participated in sexting. "This involves a group of very young adolescents, who grow up in a different world than adults, who still remember what it was like when social media didn't exist", De Lijster said to the newspaper. 

She therefore looked into two programs school can use to teach pupils how to deal with this type of behavior. One focused entirely on boys, the other on both boys and girls. Both programs have advantages, De Lijster concluded. "In the program for boys, macho behavior can be discussed more openly. In that way boys can come to the conclusion that they do not always have to like it. By involving all pupils in a teaching program, mutual understanding develops. Boys are almost twice as often guilty of border crossing behavior. One in five admits that."

With one program, a theater class about sexuality, De Lijster noticed a clear affect. "We saw that children were more comfortable with themselves. Their sexual self-image became more positive. Certainly after a few months they knew better what they want and do not want in that area and that makes them resilient. At the end of the programs, children are also less influenced by the opinion of their friends." That is important, De Lijster said. Sexuality is something that is discussed in this age group, but not everyone is at the same point of development at the same time. 

This week is the Week of Love in the Netherlands, which means that many schools pay attention to sexuality, according to AD. But that does not happen at all schools, some schools don't have any educational programs in the area of sexuality. If it is up to De Lijster, that will change. "Children indicate that they learn about the biological side of sexuality, but that does not include everything." 

According to De Lijster, her research clearly shows that there is no point in not talking about or just banning sexting. "As adults know a time when social media did not exist, it is tempting to ban sexting. But it is there and it is not just dangerous. It is important to talk about this in order to get awareness going."