It’s becoming common to open the daily news and see yet another story of teenagers sending and sharing “sexts” with their friends. In the digital age with practically every teenager having a cell phone in their pocket, it’s important for parents to roll a discussion about sexting into “the talk.”
But, how do you “do it” in such a way that it sticks, and so that your child avoids the temptation and peer pressure to send and share pornographic pictures with their friends? It’s a tough question, but an important one to answer as parents in Canyon City, Colorado are discovering this week. With hundreds of students involved in the scandal, some of whom were as young as 13, it’s clearly a problem that parents need to focus on addressing.
With yet another criminal investigation being opened related to sexting, now is the right time to discuss this with your spouse and your children. Towards that end, the following are some tips that you can use to ensure the discussion is effective:
- Discuss sexting with both boys and girls. Both are equally as likely to engage in the behavior. While girls will often feel more pressure to send pictures, boys are more likely to forward them. Thus, the discussion should include strategies for resisting the pressure to take such pictures, and then reinforcement of the understanding that receiving or forwarding such pictures is not acceptable. In fact, both are crimes and there are cases where both senders and receivers face criminal penalties for the possession and distribution of child pornography.
- Discuss ramifications. Remind your children that in the digital age information lasts forever. It does not have a shelf life and pictures sent digitally can be transmitted around the world in a matter of moments. Encourage them to constantly ask themselves “If I take this picture and it were to go viral, would I want everyone to see it?”
- Reinforce healthy relationship habits. Teach your children to recognize what is, and what is not acceptable within a relationship. Your son or daughter should never feel pressured to take compromising photographs in order to please their boyfriend/girlfriend. Be sure that they understand that it is 100% ok for them to say “no” and to cease contact with anyone who is pressuring them to send explicit photos of themselves or of their friends.
- Be proactive. If you feel that your son/daughter is being coerced into taking sexually explicit photographs, then take action immediately. Confront the individual who is attempting to receive such photographs, and if photographs have already been taken and transmitted, involve the other child’s parents and the police immediately.
- Monitor your child’s cell phone and computer usage. Programs such as Teensafe make it easy for you to see what your child is sending, as well as information that they may have deleted. Further, be clear in your rules for cell phone and computer usage, and be sure they know the boundaries you’ve set aren’t grey lines to be bent.
- Be an open door. Of all the tips, this is far and away the most important. Create a healthy relationship with your children wherein they feel comfortable coming to you about anything. And, that means anything and everything. Remember, you are your children’s greatest champion and staunchest support. The digital age is shaking things up and exposing children to more and more adult content by the day, sometimes even from previously innocuous sources. The stronger your relationship, the greater the likelihood your children will come to you to discuss sensitive and embarrassing topics such as sexting.