What we have learnt from The Hunting

By Dan Donahoo, Senior Advisor, Alannah & Madeline Foundation in News

We learn through stories.  The value of film and TV is their ability to teach us, to provoke and facilitate broader conversations about the issues that matter to our daily lives. And, from the very first provocative scene involving cybersex between young teens in SBS’s The Hunting, there is much to learn and talk about.

The Hunting creates for us a sexually charged world, where teenagers are trying to make sense of their emerging sexuality and adults are pushing their own boundaries as they navigate the power dynamics and challenges of their own relationships.

It is in that space that The Hunting poses the biggest question to those of us raising children and worried about issue around sex, relationships, technology and privacy. It asks: Are you modelling the behaviour you ask of your children? And, are you fostering a relationship that will keep them safe?

In the case of the adult characters in The Hunting the answer is “no”. A vast majority of the adults are failing the young people who are making mistakes and needing support.

Before you watch The Hunting with your teenagers, it is worthwhile for parents and carers to watch it by themselves and grapple with some of the stark realities proposed by the show: are we, as adults, behaving and conducting ourselves any better than young people?  Is our “do as I say” approach to building respectful relationships hypocritical?

As someone who regularly works with young people, discussing the way they use technology and the impact it has on their lives, The Hunting has missed a few tricks. The speed and level of involvement schools and parents have in the issues of sending and posting nude images doesn’t provide the space that usually exists when teens are managing these issues by themselves. It’s usually a long time before adults find out. They don’t just discuss conquests, but also think a lot about consent and privacy and who to send and say what to whom.

The Hunting misses the nuances of the way in which young people are both managing and exploring relationships in online environments. I say this because parents need to recognise that this is a drama, it is deliberately “hyper-real” and offers us an idea of how these issues play out but can’t be fully considered to be realistic.

In partnership with the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation and the Behavioural Insights Team, the Alannah & Madeline Foundation has designed and piloted the Digital Compass program for students in Year 8 and 9. Those students are very clear that what they are seeking is help with what we now call “the dramas”. They get taught about cyber bullying and online abuse. They are told about the value of the internet for connection and online learning. But, in between those two extremities, are the experiences they have every day managing their friendships and relationships online. They are asking themselves 100 times a day: what does that emoji mean? Should I share this? Are they in a message group I’m not a part of? Do I want to look at that Reddit post? Why did my friend draw on that photo like that? Have I made sure no-one can access my social media accounts? Should I set up a third Insta account?  

Modern teenage life is exhausting and, as adults who missed it, we really have no idea.

But we don’t need to know the ins and outs. As parents of young people, we are responsible for demonstrating and sharing the values and behaviours we believe are important.

So, remember: if what a young person posts online is there forever, the same applies to you. That means your Facebook posts and likes, your argument on a news comment thread, even things you think your kids can’t find – Google is a tool they are adept at using.

The Foundation is helping set that standard through its advocacy programs, such as the Image-Based Bullying So Not Ok program. It supports and educates young women on the issues that are represented so vividly in The Hunting. This program aims to encourage young people to have conversations about consent with their friends and families. It is through conversations and building relationships that we can help young people make better decisions and understand the possible implications.

As The Hunting makes clear, the impact of image-based abuse affects so many people, and there is no winner.

We are looking forward to the final episode of The Hunting that unpacks some of these issues further and offers us an adult who recognises that how we behave and what we value will have a direct impact on how well our own children manage with their own issues around relationships and technology.

And if you are not comfortable watching confronting scenes with your teen, there are plenty of ways to start talking about these issues without watching The Hunting. You can always just launch in with “I was reading this article and it said that adults have no idea about how teenagers use technology. Is that true? What do they mean? How do you use tech?”

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