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Would you know if your teen was sexting?

Are they aware of the risks and consequences of sending or receiving a sexual message?

In a recent study by JAMA Pediatrics the sending of sexually explicit videos, images or messages via cell phone texts also known as sexting — has become more common among adolescents. It also revealed that as the teen gets older, engaging in sext messages increases.

As we have witnessed with medicine abuse and other substance use, many parents live in denial that their teen would participate in this activity. Today sexting is considered the new flirting and some youth are not aware of the risks or consequences (potentially legal ones) they can fall into.

Across the globe we have seen sexting scandals in schools, from Duxbury, Massachusetts to Canon City, Colorado to Nova Scotia, Canada – it can happen anywhere. In North Carolina a high school quarterback faced felony charges and a sex offender status when he and his girlfriend were exchanging nude photos.

The consequences of sexting also extend offline. When something that was intended to be a private communication ends up in public, the shame and humiliation can drive our kids to the point of self-destruction. Another consequence of sexting: Experts have found children and teens that sext are more likely to engage in real-world sexual activity  than students who don’t sext.

For generations, many parents have cringed at the thought of having the “birds and the bees” conversation. Today we have to open the door for the “sext talk” without hesitation as children are digitally connected for an average of 9 hours a day. The parents of  Jessica LoganHope WitsellAudrie Pott and Amanda Todd are sadly linked together by the aftermath of sexting and cyberbullying with the loss of their teens to bullycide.

It’s a parent’s responsibility to empower their children and teens with the knowledge to make good choices about how to use all forms of technology and social media. It’s their offline skills that will help them make better online decisions. Your teen may always be an app ahead of you, but they will always need your parenting wisdom echoing in their ear when you’re not there – while making their digital choices.

The sext chat outline for parents to open the dialogue:

  1. Talk about it.Frequently and start early.  Stress the importance of safe sharing online. When your kids hear news of sext crime cases, initiate a conversation. Talk about how sexting leads to negative consequences even for adults. Revenge porn is rising every day. It can happen to anyone at any age.
  2. Make it real.Kids don’t always realize that what they do online is “real-life.” Ask them to consider how they would feel if their teacher or grandparent saw a provocative comment or picture. Remind them there’s no rewind online and no true delete button in the digital world. Comments and photos are not retrievable.
  3. Address peer pressure. Give your kids a way out – blame it on us. Tell them to let their friends know that their parents monitor (and/or spot check) their phones and social media, and you can’t risk losing your devices.
  4. Discuss legal and online consequences. Depending on your state, there can be legal ramificationswhen you send sexual content or even participate in forwarding it. What goes online – stays online. This is your digital landscape.
  5. If you receive a sexual message, never engage in it or forward it. Tell your parent or trusted adult immediately. If necessary, contact the authorities or your school.
  6. Know that your parent is only a call away.Let your child know they can always come to you without judgment. These conversations are about building trust — our kids may always be an “app” ahead of us, but we will always be the adult in the family – lead by example and be there for them.

Has your teen been a victim of sextortion or revenge porn? Maybe involved in a sexting scandal? Know there is help and resources available:

Contributor: Sue Scheff is the founder of Parents Universal Resource Experts, Inc and has published three books. Her latest is Shame Nation: Choosing Kindness and Compassion In An Age of Cruelty and Trolling (Sourcebooks, October 2017).

 

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P.U.R.E. does not provide legal advice and does not have an attorney on staff.
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