The Sexualisation of Youth: A Call to Action for Our Community

Tuesday, 07 Nov 2023

I address you today not merely as the Principal of Bishop Druitt College but as a concerned member of our community, urging us to confront a matter of utmost importance. This issue strikes at the very heart of our shared responsibility to nurture the wellbeing of Australia's youth. It demands our collective attention, despite the discomfort it may bring, for it concerns the sexualisation of young minds through mainstream and social media, and the profound impact it has on teen culture and peer pressure.

Our children are growing up in an age characterised by unprecedented access to information and media, which, while offering many advantages, simultaneously exposes them to a constant deluge of images, messages, and influences that have the power to mold their perceptions and behaviours in ways that ought to give us pause. The sexualisation of our youth through mainstream and social media is a deeply disconcerting trend that we cannot ignore. Our young people find themselves bombarded with sexual imagery and ideals that foster unrealistic expectations, fuel insecurities, and drive them prematurely into the realm of adult themes for which they may not yet be emotionally prepared.

As educators and parents, we must confront the undeniable challenges that arise from the sexualisation of our youth in the media. These challenges, though uncomfortable to address, are of paramount importance.

Peer Pressure: The desire to fit in and conform to societal expectations is an undeniable force in the lives of adolescents. As part of adolescence, young people can experience significant pressure to conform to group norms and behaviours, which can now play out in unique ways because of the 'always on' nature of smartphones and internet-connected devices. Most commonly, young women may feel pressured to produce images for young men, and young men may feel pressured to distribute these among their friends. This coercion can increase the risk that young people may fail to protect their privacy, with the concomitant potential for harm and regret in the longer term. The sharing of inappropriate body images via platforms like Snapchat or Instagram has become normalised. This new normal then creates teen advocates who unknowingly become vehicles and supporters of this peer pressure as it relates to taking and sharing inappropriate images and messages. According to a study completed by The Australian Institute of Family Studies entitled "The effects of pornography on children and young people," 44% of children aged 9 to 16 years have seen sexualized images in the last month.

Emotional Wellbeing: Exposure to sexual content, often at a young age, can have profound implications for emotional and psychological development. It blurs the lines between reality and fiction, making it challenging for our youth to form healthy relationships. This is especially true in the age of easy access to pornographic materials. According to Melinda Tankard Reist, in an article published on the Australian Childhood Foundation website, the average first age of exposure to pornography is 11 years, with 100% of 15-year-old males and 80% of 15-year-old females reporting that they have been exposed to violent, degrading online pornography.

The Australian Psychological Society has highlighted a range of concerns about the harmful impacts of pornography, particularly on children, young people, and women. Attention has been drawn to the content and contact harms of pornographic material, with specific reference to the role pornography plays in setting relationship and sexual norms among children and young people, in the sexualisation of women and girls, and in facilitating and normalising violence both at an individual and social level.

What can you do?

As a community, it is imperative that we confront these issues head-on. Our youth are struggling as a consequence of either our collective inaction or ignorance. Many families and educational institutions shy away from these conversations because they are uncomfortable, leaving our youth vulnerable and without the appropriate safeguards.

I implore you to ask yourself the following questions as a parent:

  • Have I talked to your child about the consequences of sexting, including warning them about the danger of sexual predators?
  • Have I explained to your child that sending, receiving, or forwarding sexual images is illegal, and that respectful behavior is just as important when using mobile phones?
  • Have I given your child clear rules about what they can and can't do with their mobile phone or devices?
  • Am I familiar with the technology my child is using, i.e., Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok?
  • Have I helped my child set up their online accounts, including how to set up their privacy and security settings to help protect themselves from bullying and predators?
  • Have I talked to my child about the potential harm of exposure to sexualized or explicit content?
  • Am I promoting open communication and trust with my child?
  • Have I discussed with my child the implications of breaking that trust?
  • Is the mobile device your child's right or is it a privilege?

By asking these questions and taking proactive measures to address the concerns surrounding your child's exposure to sexualized media and inappropriate influences, you can better protect and guide them through their adolescent years.

I urge parents to engage in open and honest conversations with their children about the media they consume and the values they uphold. Providing guidance, setting boundaries, and helping our youth develop a strong sense of self-worth and resilience against external pressures is essential.

If you are looking for more information on this critical issue, I encourage you to access the eSafety website or speak to your school about what support mechanisms they can provide.

Nick Johnstone

Key Resource Links:

Report Online Harm Portal -

Parental Resources to support difficult conversation about sexting -

Youth attitudes to Pornography -

Resources for Educators -

New National Resource - One Talk at a Time -


El-Murr, A. and Quadara, A. (2017) (Accessed: 05 November 2023).

Sampson, E. and Gridley, H. (2015) (Accessed: 05 November 2023).