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If you’re not talking to your kids about “sexting,”
there’s someone in a chat room ready to have that conversation. Here, a look at the latest.
Typically kids, particularly those with poor self-worth or who are easily influenced, seek approval through “sexting.” Youth compelled to act by someone they love or trust are also vulnerable, especially teens, since they inherently struggle to see the big picture. Society also exacts sway, normalizing and even glorifying under-age sex. “If a child or teen is spending a great deal of time online, you can bet they are seeing sexually explicit content,” explains Krysta Dancy, M.A., M.F.T., and supervisor/co-director of The Place Within Counseling Center. “It can begin to feel like it is normal. Everyone seems to be participating.”
On average, sexting becomes an issue in middle school, when kids increasingly navigate social and romantic relationships without as much parental oversight. The mix of freedom, access and naïveté creates something of a perfect storm. Although Dancy feels sexting is more common than parents realize—and that no child is immune to it—there are certain personalities more prone to persuasion, including kids with a strong need for romantic or sexual attention, those without media limits or supervision, and those with an intrinsic lack of forethought.
THE SEXTING EFFECT
Initially, the cost of sexting might include possible humiliation and exploitation, while long-term social consequences include bullying, harassment and sexual objectification, which can lead to poor self-esteem, depression, anxiety, social withdrawal, etc. Legally, implications for minors discovered in possession of nude photos, which is considered child pornography, can lead to further trouble if discovered.
“THE TALK” 2.0
Preferably, approach the issue with your kids before they have access to a smartphone or media device. But don’t make the discussion solely about sex—focus on the real-world consequences of posting explicit or embarrassing material, and use examples of others who have been hurt by such actions. Pose helpful and thought-provoking questions like, “How did it affect their reputation?’”
Further points of discussion include lack of control. Explain that information doesn’t disappear because it’s not there—it can be forwarded, copy and pasted, or saved. “Remind kids that, yes, the recipient might be someone they trust now…but no one can predict the future,” Dancy explains. “They put themselves in a vulnerable position to allow anyone to have compromising photos of them. [But] having a conversation about sex with your kid will not prepare them for how to handle sexting. Both need to be addressed.”
Technologically speaking, kids are a step savvier than their folks, so foster open dialogue to educate and establish a mutual relationship where kids can come to you with questions and concerns. Also, set limits on technology usage and use logic (e.g., always consider age and maturity). Finally, communicate your parental right to monitor their activity and institute fair rules—no late-night technology in the bedroom or for long unsupervised periods. As trustworthiness and responsible usage of technology is exhibited, slowly loosen the reins, but never hand them over entirely.
KNOW THE CODE
Don’t know an OMG from a TDTM? Here, a cheat sheet straight from Therapist Dancy: