How to Talk to Your Kids About 'Sexting'

Sexting refers to sending texts with inappropriate (i.e., sexual) messages or pictures of people naked or performing sexual acts. In a recent study published in the February 2014 issue of Pediatrics, scientists surveyed 410 students in the 7th grade and found that 22 percent of them had “sexted.” The study also found that kids who had sexted may be more likely to actually engage in other sexual behaviors.

Sexting has serious consequences

  • School. Schools take sexting seriously. Being suspended or expelled can result. It will go on the “sexter’s” record, which may affect job or college acceptances.
  • Criminal charges. It is a crime in some states. Police may get involved in other cases as well.
  • Social/emotional consequences. It can be hurtful, even to the point of social isolation, for the person who has sent pictures and sometimes even for the person receiving the messages.

What can parents do?

  • Talk to your child. As with all aspects of social media and technology, talk to your children about sexting and what it is. Explain that it is never acceptable. As soon as you hand your child a digital device, be it a phone or a tablet or a computer, you should begin the discussion that sending or receiving inappropriate pictures is never okay, nor is sending explicit sexual messages. Discuss that it is not funny and can get them into a lot of trouble. Remind children that messages that get sent can be seen by anyone and can’t be taken back.

  • Monitor. Again, from day one with a digital device, make it clear to your child that having that device is a privilege and not a right. Along with that privilege, your child should be aware that you have the right and responsibility to monitor your child’s activities on the device. You should always know the passcodes to all of their devices.

  • Minimize temptations. A lot of sexting occurs under peer pressure when groups of kids are together. Collecting cell phones at parties or at sleepovers and so forth may help.

  • Discuss the news. There is no shortage of incidents involving teens and sexting in the news, as well as news about the negative consequences that resulted. Bring these evens to your child’s attention and discuss.

  • Network. Discuss these issues with the school and other parents. Schools can do workshops for both parents and kids. Other parents sometimes have advice or experiences to share that can be helpful.

  • Learn. Kids are way more tech-savvy than their parents. Take the time to learn about the sites they are using and how they work. It may actually be a great way to spend time with your child because most kids get pretty excited to teach adults how to navigate the digital world.

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