Have you read the recent news articles that claim sexting is a normal behavior?
While the media may rationalize sexting as an appropriate method of sexual exploration, for parents, this open acceptance of sexting is alarming. On the one hand, it sends our children the message that this behavior is all right and that everyone is snapping racy selfies. On the other hand, parents are the ones left to pick up the pieces after a sext is leaked or a son or daughter is prosecuted by the law for possession or distribution of child pornography.
Making sense of a child’s sexting behavior
Child development experts report that sexting is merely a part of normal sexual development. The act of seeking out and looking at sexual images is nothing new. What’s changed, however, is the fairly recent development of technology that connects our teens.
While in the past teens used to explore their sexuality behind closed doors, or with magazines stuffed under a big brother’s mattress, they now rely on social media, smartphones, and the internet. But today’s devices expose our teens to a whole new world of risks and dangers.
The moment a parent finds out their teen has been sexting can be a nightmare. Just trying to understand the emotions and realizations involved in a child’s sexual exploration could lead to parenting mistakes, which could be avoided.
Parenting mistakes to avoid
Often, our initial impulse is to shout choice words at our child. But parents need to first take a step back from the situation and approach their child with caution and honesty. Initiating a talk about sexting while angry or upset can cause unneeded friction and hurt feelings, as well as shut down the whole communication process.
Four things not to do when we catch our teens sexting:
- Play the blame game. Blaming a friend or significant other will only cause mistrust and get us nowhere.
- Wait until an incident to have the safe sext talk. A conversation on basic social media etiquette should begin when a child is young and build up to later include the topic of sexting as the child matures.
- Lecture and speak out of anger. Take a few minutes to calm down and focus on what your child has to say.
- Name call. Keep derogatory comments out of the conversation. Name calling will only increase the chances of a child becoming defensive.
Five tips for talking to your child about sexting
Sexting is a scary scenario that many parents will have to face. Some sexting studies have found that 40 percent of high school age children have participated in sending or receiving sexts; additionally, 70 percent of teens admit to sexting a person whom they are in a relationship with.
Chances are at some point during the teen years we will need to address this situation with our kids. Granted, sexting doesn’t transmit disease or pose a risk for unwanted pregnancy, but it does come with potential problems and negative side effects that children should be made aware of.
Five suggestions to help you handle a teen’s sext-capades:
- Create a cell phone and technology contract with your teen. Sit down and discuss what your family considers acceptable use of technology. Be specific when outlining consequences and expectations for teens. Show that you value their input in this process.
- Keep children informed about the social and legal consequences that come with sexting. Empower them with information. Teens are very bright and can be forward thinking. Let them have this opportunity to make sound decisions regarding their future.
- Encourage a teen to avoid sending intimate texts to people they do not know. Stress that people on the internet are not always who they appear to be. A good rule of thumb for teens is to only post what they would be comfortable with a grandparent seeing.
- It’s okay to say “no.” With 60 percent of sexters acknowledging pressure to send sexts, it is important to let your teen know that they should never sext if they feel uncomfortable.
- Parents need to know how a teen uses technology to communicate. Take some time and research the apps your child uses. Some sites are more geared than others toward promoting sexting. Understand the difference between anonymous, disappearing messages, and photo sharing social media apps.
Thankfully, parents can help their children overcome sexting issues and guide them on the right path. Monitoring a child’s online activity and staying up to date on new social media trends can help protect children. Even though sexting might be considered the new normal, it shouldn’t have to cause irreparable damage to a child’s future.