The new term of “sexting” may have just come on the radar for many parents but understanding what sexting is and how it can affect your child or teen has become crucial. Sexting is a term that refers to the sending of sexually explicit text or pictures from cell phone to cell phone. While most of these messages and pictures are meant to be private, because of the impulsive nature of teens many of these pictures end up on the Internet where they cannot be stopped and often do irreversible harm. As a parent it is important to understand that there are steps that you can take to help your teen understand the ramifications of engaging in this type of behavior. Failure to do so can lead to emotional damage, embarrassment and even serious legal charges. Here are some things that parents can do about sexting-
· Communicate with your child or teen-As difficult and embarrassing as this can be, studies have shown that teens really want to hear their parents say, “Don’t do this!” Despite what they say, children and teens are really looking for boundaries. Make sure that your child knows exactly what your expectations are in reference to using a cell phone and computer. You may want to even add that any pictures that are sent from either require your approval first. This simple step can eliminate many problems.
· Think about the type of cell phone your teen has-Plenty of cell phones do not take photos. By giving one of these to your teen it will at least keep him or her from being the source of impulsive pictures. If your teen already has a photo phone or for that matter, a digital camera, be sure to talk about using it responsibly. Help them understand that professional photographers get signed releases before they publish another person’s photo. While friends do not need to go legal they should use the same mental test. Teach them to ask themselves, “Would my friend give permission to have this photo distributed? Be sure to point out that friends do not send compromising pictures of friends.
· Understand that harassment does happen-Many young women and some young men wind up sending naked pictures because they are being pressured by a partner. Remind both boys and girls that someone who actually cares about them will not push them into doing things that are uncomfortable. There are even online sites that can help your teen discover ways to deal with this kind of pressure. If they cannot talk to you about it make sure that they have an adult they can talk to who will support them in standing up to the pressure.
· Do not be afraid to snoop! If you are unsure or worried about the fact that your teen could be sexting you can look at their cell phone inbox and sent emails and the history on their computer without telling them. Be sure to search deleted files as well. Keep in mind that if your child has erased all evidence of phone and computer activity, you have a problem. First, you should ask them about it. They may want to talk to you. If they are evasive, stop paying for extra services like text messaging or take the computer or cell phone away.
Every generation discovers sex and while parents may want to keep their kids cloistered, that is not a very realistic strategy. What parents need to do is encourage kids to slow down and think about their choices. Like so many other teen behaviors, sending a naked picture or video is something that is likely to be done in haste and repented at leisure. By talking frankly with your teen about why it is a bad idea, parents are more likely to protect kids from the consequences of letting their hormones override common sense.