Many parents dread giving the “birds and the bees” talk to our kids. In days past, this talk involved a lot of awkward silences and euphemisms. Today, however, these talks can also be used to empower our sons and daughters to safely navigate their sexual development. Unfortunately, one area of concern parents often overlook is the role technology and sexting plays in our child’s sexual exploration.
For parents it can be daunting to begin talking about sexting, but we can’t overlook this new right of passage that comes with raising digital natives. Data shows that 40 percent of all high school age children send or receive sexts. To drive this point home, 70 percent of teenagers acknowledge they participate in sexting behaviors with their significant other. Admitting that our children are actively sexting can be difficult, but recent studies have found that sexting is a completely normal part of development.
Curious on How To Approach Sexting?
First, we need to take a deep breath and relax. After all, sexting isn’t alien or abnormal. These behaviors are often compared to an updated version of “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.” Many of our teens viewing sexting as a safe alternative for intercourse, because there are no pregnancy and STD threats when images are the only items being exchanged.
Given the secretive nature of sexual interactions, it can be very difficult for a parent to know if their child is sexting behind closed doors. The private nature of online interaction and especially sexting makes it even more important we address this issue before our kids encounter pressure from peers to participate. Hopefully, by encouraging open communication, we can give our sons and daughters the means and methods to protect themselves in a digital world.
Tips For “The Talk”
Thankfully, there are measures everyone can take to help reduce the risks associated with sexting. Listed below are eight pointers to help us approach the topic of sexting with our children:
- Avoid name calling, yelling, or blaming during our discussion. As parents, we ultimately want to create a safe environment that our children feel comfortable discussing intimate topics.
- Remind them that anything posted on the Internet will last forever. That includes deleted texts, messages, and disappearing apps. Stress that it is a good idea to only post images or messages that they would allow their grandparents to view.
- Make sure they understand that once a sext is sent, the recipient holds their fate in their hands. Sexting leaves a person exposed to the whim of the person on the other end of the connection. Even disappearing messages can be retrieved or screenshots taken.
- Stress the importance of consent. Consent is an important life skill, even if they are only snapping a racy selfie. Encourage them to question if they willingly want to participate or if they have the other person’s consent to share a personal photo.
- Let teens know it’s alright to say NO. Experts estimate that 60 percent of teens who sext feel pressure to send racy images. A person who truly cares, will not force someone to do things they are uncomfortable with.
- Teens need to understand the legal consequences they face if caught. Due to outdated laws, sexting between underage minors can be considered possessing or distributing child pornography, even if both parties consent. This can result in being labeled as a child predator, felon, and sexual offender.
- Encourage interaction between people children know in real life and make sure they know how to adjust their privacy settings. After all, anything posted on social media is never really private.
- Help protect their reputation by stressing the importance of keeping their faces and identifying traits out of a sext. Every now and then a sext is leaked or shared with others, which can cascade into cyberbullying and harassment cases. Simply adjust the angles of the photo to take an extra safeguard- just in case.
Caught In The Act: What Not To Say To A Sexting Teen
If you suspect your child is sexting, avoid reacting with rage and fury. It is believed that 70 percent of our teens take measures to hide their online activity from us. As parents, this can be difficult to digest. Watching our children dim screens or close windows the minute we walk in the room can easily set off our parental radars for questionable activity. Collect yourself and touch base with your teen using the above tips to help guide the conversation.
What methods does your family utilize to address teen sexting?