Technology and social media are increasingly essential tools in today’s world. However, they can present significant challenges for us all, and especially for young people exploring boundaries, forming relationships and developing sexual awareness. In our attempts to guide young people about the potential dangers of on-line behaviours, we find our legal, ethical and moral frameworks have not kept pace in offering strategies, research and guidance about how exactly to do this.
In other projects, we found the issues around kids and screen time, social media and cyberbullying arise as a constant challenge for parents and other caring adults. And while young people learn about some of these issues in school, parents and caregivers have no such opportunity for support, strategizing, or guidance about how to effectively navigate these topics with their kids, and at increasingly younger ages.
A recent high-profile case of male-identified youth in our area distributing intimate images of their female-identified peers without consent prompted a lot of public commentary. Much of it was negative, judgemental and caused more harm to all the people involved. There was bullying, name-calling, blaming and shaming of the youth involved, including the victims, as well as their families and teachers in ways that showed a lack of both compassion and understanding about this increasingly common, yet illegal activity. The roots of it are complex and socially conditioned, and as a community we need to do better to reduce and minimize harm.
Project Team, Part 1 with keynote speaker/author Nancy Smith, left
The 3-part series was an opportunity not only for presentations from local and other experts in the field, but for community conversation- -learning, exploring and strategizing about guiding our young people to become responsible digital citizens in a non-judgemental atmosphere with accurate, evidence-based information.
While we did not have the capacity to do all that we had hoped for in this three-part series, we consciously included an intersectional youth perspective in our materials and planning – either through youth workers or from youth themselves in our final event.
We now know that: adherence to traditional gender stereotypes is the #1 predictor of whether youth engage in this practice, especially among boys; that a sex-positive/ harm reduction approach might be the most effective way to approach conversations with youth on this topic; that scare tactics do not work to dissuade youth from deciding to send or share intimate images; and that understanding the profound and traumatic impacts on others, as well as education on the law and available interventions and supports are crucial. But the most important conversation is between parents/caregivers/educators and the youth they guardian and mentors, in thinking critically, dispelling rape myths and sexualized gender stereotypes, and building protective strategies for healthy self-esteem and respectful relationships of all kinds.
The 3 separate events were hosted in collaboration with community partners with funding from Lunenburg County Community Health Board, Nova Scotia Sexual Violence Strategy, South Shore Regional Centre for Education, the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg, and in-kind from the Town of Bridgewater.
Part 1: “Raising Youth in a Digital Age”- March 28th, 2018 @ Parkview Education Centre
In partnership with Second Story Women’s Centre, Sexual Assault Services Lunenburg Queens (SASLQ), South Shore Regional Centre for Education and with help from Sexual Health Centre Lunenburg County, Town of Bridgewater and Infinitus Academy, Be the Peace Institute hosted a gathering of 60+ parents and caregivers to explore digital practices among youth, the challenges and opportunities as well as the roots of gender conditioning and social pressure linked to on-line behaviours. Keynote speaker Nancy Smith, author of Social Citizens: A Positive Approach to Social Media and Parenting in a Digital World led a discussion on how adults can better support kids in becoming responsible digital citizens. Liz McCurdy, youth engagement specialist for SASLQ of Second Story Women’s Centre and Brian Braganza, facilitator and consultant in youth leadership and development were also on hand to further explore what they hear from youth about technology, how it affects their daily lives and relationships and what adults need to know to approach these conversations with youth.
Media coverage of the event:
Part 2: “A Community Conversation on Youth Sharing Intimate Images”- June 14th, 2018 @ Bridgewater Fire Hall
Our second gathering in the series through continued collaboration with Town of Bridgewater, South Shore Regional Education Centre and Second Story Women’s Centre, with help from Sexual Health Centre Lunenburg County, Harbour House and Schools Plus was an opportunity to more fully unearth the practice of sharing intimate images among youth on the South Shore. A panel conversation among adults who work with youth locally or as community leaders, included: Linda Jensen, Schools Plus Facilitator; Bridgewater Mayor, David Mitchell; Sexual Health Centre ED, Julie Veinot; Youth Outreach Worker, Tiffany Slaunewhite from Harbour House and BTPI Project Officer, Stacey Godsoe. They offered insights on the prevalence of this practice, misinformation, the contributing factors that influence youth decision-making and some strategies and supports available to parents, care givers and service providers to consider when broaching these important conversations with youth. The presentation and discussion included both the most current Canadian research on the topic, as well as perspectives directly from over 150 youth attending the #YouthToo youth forum in March 2018.
Media coverage and resources:
Second Story Women's Centre #YouthToo Event
Part 3: “Sharing Intimate Images & Cybersafety”, October 3rd, 2018 @ Bridgewater Best Western Hotel and Conf. Ctr.
Again, with a focus specifically on youth sharing intimate images, this gathering was an opportunity to hear from professionals from a range of sectors and with diverse expertise on this issue as well as from youth themselves. Panelists included: Professor Emeritus at Dalhousie Law School, Dr. Wayne MacKay; Lisa Greenough & Sonya Ferrara from N.S. Dept of Justice’s CyberSCAN Unit; Clinical Psychologist Dr. Ayala Gorodzinsky; Dr. Matthew Numer, Assoc. Professor Dalhousie School of Health & Human Performance; South Shore Community Justice Society ED, Nicolle Lovett; as well as two youth panelists, Vic Naugler and My Nguyen, students of Parkview Education Centre. (Regrets from Dr. Ardath Whynacht, Assistant Sociology Professor, Mount Alison University).
Presentations covered the new legislation on sharing intimate images and cyber protection, the pros/cons and legal remedies; potential harms associated with this practice and how to reduce them; the impacts on mental health and safety for youth; how to engage with young folks in more meaningful, understanding and constructive ways; how more marginalized youth – particularly gender non-conforming and LGBTQ2S youth are differently impacted by this issue; and the range of available supports, strategies and tools for adults and youth to access. Break-out table conversations with the panelists allowed a deeper dive into specific topics or concerns.
Media coverage and resources:
Report: Non-consensual Sharing of Sexts: Behaviours and Attitudes of Canadian Youth