Sexting: A language our children must never learn

The vogue for sexting is sad, narcissistic and depressing, but it is also, crucially, attention-seeking.
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The vogue for sexting is sad, narcissistic and depressing, but it is also, crucially, attention-seeking.

OPINION: ​Young people have always invented their own terminology in order to communicate beneath the adult radar.

But without wishing to sound like Methuselah's great aunt, there's a deal of difference between "groovy, baby" and "NIFOC", which translates as "Nude in front of the computer".

That's why police hackers in England have decoded a list of 112 phrases to assist parents with their enquiries, as it were.

They include: WTTP (want to trade pictures?), RU/18 (are you over 18?), IWSN (I want sex now), LMIRL (let's meet in real life) and KPC (keeping parents clueless).

Letting some light in on this lexicon of "love" is supposed to combat the spectre of sexting.

According to the children's charity NSPCC, one in seven youngsters has taken a naked or semi-naked picture of themselves; more than half of them went on to share the image with someone else.

As I see it, the vogue for sexting is sad, narcissistic and depressing, but it is also, crucially, attention-seeking and bespeaks a dolefully low self-esteem.

It's easy to blame youth culture, smartphones and explicit lyrics, but maybe it's time for a little joined-up thinking.

The charity ChildLine has revealed that thousands of young people are receiving counselling for chronic loneliness, three quarters of them girls.

In our social media age, children are left to their own devices (quite literally) because we, their parents, are "addicted to being busy".

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As a result, they are online, yet alone; hyper-connected, but emotionally isolated. In cyberspace, there is always someone more popular, prettier, richer; comparisons may be invidious, but they are also insidious.

No amount of clever-clogs textspeak can conceal the emptiness of virtual relationships or the casual cruelties of friendship conducted from afar.

Yet we are all so addicted to the quick fix of WhatsApp and Instagram, Facebook and email that many of us would rather fiddle with a tiny screen than sit down and talk - really talk - to those we love most, instilling them with pride, making them feel valued. Certainly worth more than a needy, seedy selfie taken in their bedroom.

As adults, vested in the real world, we can disengage at a keystroke if we want to, but it takes effort and resolve; and who's got much of that left after a long day at work? But we need to summon the energy, somehow, lest we lose our children long before they move away from home.

It's far less easy for teenagers to kick the habit of scanning Snapchat for likes, because their sense of self is so bound up in their peer group, in their parallel universe. But parenting doesn't, shouldn't, stop once a child is handed their first phone.

Face-to-face time is precious, and phone-free adventures ought to be mandatory.

Life's most valuable lessons are learnt by interacting with real people and reading real situations, not in the snarky, sneaky arena of chatrooms.

 - The Telegraph, London

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