Teens are curious about their bodies, and don’t always make the best decisions when expressing their feelings especially with those with the opposite sex. With cell phones and digital devices capable of snapping pictures to exchange by text, sexting has become a popular trend. As author and educator Rosalind Wiseman explains, today’s children have grown up online and they naturally flirt this way. However, sexting has dangerous consequences and parents need to be proactive in teaching their children appropriate means of communication.
One important issue to address with your teen is that the picture or suggestive text can be misconstrued. While someone might want a flirtatious picture, they don’t expect a sexy skin-baring shot. Sending a racy photo can escalate a relationship, even one that’s casual, to a level your teen isn’t prepared for. Sexting as foreplay is going too far. Many girls, who are eager to please, send sexts to make the boy they like happy. Peer pressure is also a huge factor!
Another problem is that messages can accidentally be sent to the wrong person. Imagine sending a picture meant for a boyfriend to your grandmother. While that may be extremely awkward, that is by far the least dangerous situation. Imagine if your teen sent that picture to a boyfriend, who then sent it to his friends, and they continued to send it amongst their friends until eventually the photo or text ends up on social media. Now it’s not deleteable and discoverable forever. That’s way too much exposure for your teen.
Another issue is if the picture disturbs the individual who receives the message, then they may take legal action against you and your children. Lori Getz, a technology expert, says depending on the ages of the teens initiating and receiving the texts, state and federal laws may be broken. Charges could involve a sex offender tag, or even a felony charge for child porn, which comes with years of ramifications.
Parents need to implement phone rules and remind their teen of rules that have become too lax. Cell phone rules and guidelines can include the following:
- Consequences for breaking the rules. Use of the phone is a privilege. Your child gets the benefit if they use it responsibly. Breaking this means they have penalties like restricted time access, stripped down service with no text or data, or no phone for a set limit of days.
- Cell phones are to be deposited in a certain location when entering the house. Doing so will prevent your child from accessing the phone while they’re in their room or a bathroom, two common places for snapping selfies.
- Have a set time when all phones must be off. This cuts down on any hidden activities. If you need to set up a charging station where everyone’s phone is docked/plugged in, do it.
If you see a sext your teen has sent or received, refresh them on your family values. Remind them to hold themselves to a high standard. Talk about how words can mean more than what they think. Elaborate by explaining the kinds of pictures that are okay to take. Give concrete examples like fun and slightly flirtatious as opposed to half naked and provocative.
Explain to your teen that if the person receiving the picture cares about them, they would go through the steps to court them in person to arrive at that step. Help them see that real life contact is more meaningful than a quickly taken picture. Dr. Wendy Walsh, a relationship and parenting expert, urges parents to encourage their teens to have peer-to-peer time with people their age where they aren’t connected by exchanges via texts.
If you see a sext to sent to your teen, then hit the delete key. This is especially important if it’s not something they asked to see. Keeping the message will lead to temptations that can get them into trouble. Also, make sure they know how serious the situation is and give them potential “what if” scenarios. Doing so may make them realize the gravity of the situation and how those few quick minutes could affect the whole family for a lifetime.