Teenagers, errors and the internet

InternetWhen I was in Year Ten in high school, we went on a school camp. It was a rustic bush-type camp. There was a single shower that everyone took turns to use. It wasn’t part of a bathroom, it was a single cubicle encased in fence palings with a bit of corrugated iron for a door. I think we had to boil water if we wanted to have a hot shower. My memory might be failing me a little – it was about 25 years ago.

But I do clearly remember the boys started a competition of sorts. The idea was to burst through the cubicle door (which had no lock) and take a photo of fellow students showering. Male and female. There was a lot of bluster and bravado, and friends posted on guard outside the cubicle door. But one particular boy got several snaps of different classmates under the shower. He duly got the film roll developed at the local chemists (remember when we used to have to wait several days before we got our photos?) and for his trouble, he got several strips of blacked out negatives. Yes, whoever developed the photos decided they were inappropriate and simply didn’t print the photos and destroyed the negative. And that was the end of it.

In the news at the moment, we’ve heard about a simply vile website where teenage boys (and men too presumably), swap indecent photos of teenage schoolgirls, often posted with personal details such as their address and phone number. As the mother of both a girl and a boy, I find this horrifying from all angles.

But it did remind me of the Year Ten boys at camp in the 1980s. Curious and reckless teenagers engaging in voyeurism.

I’m still in touch with some of these boys. For the most part, they are husbands and fathers, and generally nice blokes. If I reminded them of what their fifteen-year-old selves got up too, they might laugh or maybe be a bit embarrassed. If they had successfully obtained prints of the photos, they may have been shared around amongst friends. In all honesty, if there were any nude photos of my male classmates, I probably would have had a look too. At some point, everyone would have had their fun and the photos would have disappeared into the bottom of someone’s locker and that would have been the end of it. The victims would have been angry and embarrassed, but it would have been a fleeting moment in the grand scheme of things.

Fast forward twenty-five years. Combine instant technology with the global reach of the internet and the power of anonymity, and the same scenario – teenagers behaving inappropriately – has turned into a hideous beast that has severely impacted many lives.

Teenagers, in general, will always engage in risky and ill-considered behaviour. I think it is part of the way their brains are wired – trial and error, along with the evolutionary need for independence. But their errors shouldn’t follow them for life.

There are girls testing their burgeoning sexuality. There are boys with fake internet accounts thinking they won’t be held accountable for their actions. And lives are being destroyed.

If a seventeen year old boy is tracked down as having posted a nude photo of a fifteen year old girl, he will be charged as an adult for child pornography offences. If they fall for the excitement, the competition and peer pressure of this type of website, they can end up on the sex offenders register.

If a sixteen year old girl sends a risqué selfie to a current boyfriend she has to understand – once an image is sent anywhere, to anyone, you have given it away. It is no longer yours. You have no more control over it. With the press of a key, it can start a frightening and endless journey around the world. You can never get it back. It can follow you into adulthood and impact on you long after you realise it was an impulsive error. Neither apologies or remorse will stop it.

The police should shut the website down. Sure. Agreed. But as the website is hosted in another country with different laws, it is not that easy. It’s not right, it’s not fair, but it’s reality.

The internet is part of life now. Teenage stupidity can now become a lifetime regret. I’m so glad there are no records of my early mistakes. I can only hope I know enough to steer my children through it when they reach this age of experimentation.