11 May 2017

A digital onslaught for our girls

​​​​I was shocked to read in the Sydney Morning Herald on 22 January this statement regarding sexting: “It is absolutely a normal part of teenage sexual development…Teenagers are not going to stop sending those images to each other any more than they are going to stop pashing at parties.” (SMH 20171) As I read this, I had to reflect – has it become the norm to send a ‘sext’ to a boy or potential partner? How can we work with young women to help them to develop the self-respect they need to build strong and respectful relationships and be confident and resilient young women?

A 2014 La Trobe University study surveyed over 2000 students from Years 10-12. Shockingly, it showed that sexting is considered common, with 54 per cent of these students reporting they had received a sexually explicit text message, and 26 per cent had sent an explicit photo of themselves. To put this into perspective, with 360 girls in Years 10-12 here at St Catherine’s, this statistic would mean that nearly 100 of them may have sent an image of themselves that they are likely to regret later in life.

Michael Carr-Gregg, a respected psychologist, told in 2016 (Smith, 20162) that he estimated as many as 20 per cent of all primary school students have sent or received sexts or inappropriate texts. He also noted, worryingly, that young people are signing up to social media, with their parents’ permission, well before they are of an age to legally do so. He likened this to “Giving them a passport into a very adult world and they don’t have the maturity to manage that.”

Generation Z and Generation Alpha (born after 2010) are described as fully global generations, shaped by the 21st century and constantly connected through social media. The challenge for schools and for parents is to be available to offer wisdom and support to our younger generations, as well as set firm boundaries around social media use. We cannot stand by and take the easy road, as parents or as a school. We know from positive psychology that a rich and supportive group of friends and strong relationships are key to wellbeing, but we need to ensure balance and regulation is in place for social media access, much as we do for the use of alcohol or drugs.

While we might like to think that as parents and adults we are more ‘savvy’ than our daughters and students, research has shown that 70 per cent of tweens and teenagers said that their parents did not know about their internet use. 50 per cent regularly cleared their browser history or used private mode. We know that girls may have multiple social media accounts – one a ‘family-friendly’ version, and others used for peer-only relationships.

Do we as the adults in the relationship educate ourselves enough about social media? For instance, do you know what a snapchat streak is? If not, make time to learn. Maintain an honest, strong and firm relationship with your daughter and you are half way there.

1 SMH. (2017, January 22). Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from

2 Smith, R. (2016, September 16). Retrieved from

Bernard. (2014, January 2). Effective parenting in a digital world article retrieved from:

Deb Clancy head of academic care and boarding at St Catherine's Mrs Deborah Clancy
Head of Boarding and Academic Care​