It’s time to have “the talk.” Not that talk. But the sexting talk can be just as nerve-wracking. Today’s teens and tweens are connected to one another, and to the world, more now than at any time in history. Recent data suggests that social media venues like Facebook and Twitter have surpassed e-mail as the preferred method of communication in all age groups. While today’s tweens and teens may be more digitally savvy than their parents, their lack of maturity and life experience can quickly get them into trouble with these new social venues.
Sexting among teens is, unfortunately, pretty common. Sexting” refers to sending a text message with pictures of children or teens that are inappropriate, naked or engaged in sex acts. – And, while experts differ on statistics, a 2009 study conducted by Pew Internet & American Life Project confirms sexting is a teen reality that’s here to stay. Why do they do it? To show off, to entice someone, to show interest in someone, or to prove commitment. Or even as a joke. Teens' developing interest in sex, an impulse to experiment, and apps that make sexting easy — and acceptable — create an environment that some teens find irresistible.
According to a recent survey, about 20 percent of teen boys and girls have sent such messages. The emotional pain it causes can be enormous for the child in the picture as well as the sender and receiver– often with legal implications. There have been some high profile cases of sexting. In 2015, a Colorado high school was rocked by a sexting scandal involving hundreds of students. In 2009, Cincinnati teen Jesse Logan committed suicide after a nude photo she’d sent to a boyfriend was circulated widely around her high school, resulting in harassment from her classmates.
Parents must begin the difficult conversation about sexting before there is a problem and introduce the issue as soon as a child is old enough to have a cell phone. Here are some tips for how to begin these conversations with your children:
Talk to your kids, even if the issue hasn’t directly impacted your community. “Have you heard of sexting?” “Tell me what you think it is.” For the initial part of the conversation, it is important to first learn what your child’s understanding is of the issue and then add to it an age appropriate explanation.
Use examples appropriate for your child’s age. For younger children with cell phones who do not yet know about sex, alert them that text messages should never contain pictures of people- -kids or adults– without their clothes on, kissing or touching each other in ways that they’ve never seen before. For older children, use the term “sexting” and give more specifics about sex acts they may know about. For teens, be very specific that “sexting” often involves pictures of a sexual nature and is considered pornography.
Make sure kids of all ages understand that sexting is serious and considered a crime in many jurisdictions. In all communities, if they “sext”, there will be serious consequences, quite possibly involving the police, suspension from school, and notes on the sexter’s permanent record that could hurt their chances of getting into college or getting a job.
Encourage school and town assemblies to educate parents, teachers and students.
Consider a Parent-Teen Cell Phone Contact. Establish expectations and guidelines for your teen and put them in writing.
Let teens know their limits. In addition to choosing appropriate data and text messaging limits, parents should also explain their teen does not own their mobile device.
Know who they’re talking to. Keep communication open and revisit these expectations on a regular basis by checking their mobile device for sexting and other problem activities. Prohibit teens from enabling cell phone passwords and penalize them they do in an attempt to hide their activity. Follow up with your teen about who they are friends with, both online and off.
What should I do if someone “sexts” my kid?
Tell your kid to delete the photo and block the number. And if someone asks her to send a "sext," make sure she says no. Pressured sexting is a form of digital harassment and can lead to risky behavior and emotional stress. This would be a good opportunity to have a larger conversation about the risks of sexting and sharing sensitive information online or through social media, as well as what makes a healthy relationship.
Parents shouldn’t be excused from their responsibility of monitoring their children’s phones just because they don’t understand the technology. This is the communication tool of today’s generation just as when your parents picked up the phone and listened in on your conversations. Understanding today’s technology and using it with your teens will bond you and your teen as well as potentially protect your teen from dangerous situations.