On March 1, 2023

New sexting prevention program debuted for middle, high school students

Project SELFIE offers tools to better navigate digital communications

In response to a new emerging issue, Prevent Child Abuse Vermont has developed a new sexting prevention program for middle and high schoolers. 

Vermont youth are sexting at a rate that may surprise many adults. According to the Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey, in 2019, 27% of Vermont high schoolers surveyed admitted to either receiving or sending a sext in the past 30 days. This activity can cause youth legal involvement, emotional upset, and social distress as well as raising their risk of experiencing sextortion — pressure by another to send explicit images or video or threats to release illicit images if more are not sent. 

Youth are not prepared for the pressures to sext and face these decisions without guidance, which is risky. Parents and other concerned adults may not understand why youth would be tempted to engage in this behavior. 

So, in response, Prevent Child Abuse Vermont has developed a sexting prevention program for Vermont middle and high schoolers, their parents, and the staff of their schools.

 Schools have looked to PCAVT for prevention education for many decades. So, when schools became aware that sexting was an issue for their students, they called PCAVT, because it is an organization that has expertise in designing and implementing this type of prevention education. 

Project SELFIE (Safe Expression onLine For Internet Empowerment) was the result. Project SELFIE is an empirically-based, developmentally appropriate program with a curriculum for middle schoolers and another for high schoolers. Students receive two interactive presentations on how to resist the pressure to sext, how to respond to requests to sext, the steps to take if an unsolicited sext is received, and how to get adult assistance to have healthy digital communication skills. Parents and caregivers along with educators and other professionals also receive training in how to protect youth from a range of digital risks, such as, sexting, online groomers, others who cross boundaries digitally, and online pornography. Adults learn how to open lines of communication about these topics with youth with an understanding of adolescence as a phase of development. 

Evaluation results show that students had gains in their knowledge and skills about sexting and how to avoid it. Additionally, 90% of students were satisfied with the lessons. 

Parents, caregivers, as well as school faculty and staff members who attended the training felt more prepared to monitor youths’ internet activities and to guide youth to healthy digital behaviors.

Adults and youth need support to navigate the new world online. Project SELFIE was developed in Vermont for our students. It gives youth a chance to speak about their experiences online and to receive support to have healthy relationships in the digital environment. 

To order Project SELFIE, sign up to become a trainer, or to see if PCAVT can present the program in your school, email mhambrick@pcavt.org.

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