Parents agree that teen sexting – sending suggestive or nude pictures via text – is a serious problem. But in talking to teens, I routinely hear phrases like “It’s no big deal” or “everybody does it” or “it’s just flirting” that would blow their parents’ minds. When there’s such a wide divide between teen and parent on the sexting issue, communication is essential.
If you don’t know how in the world to approach the topic with your child, or what to say when you finally do, you’re not alone. Here are some tips for getting a conversation started.
- Start talking early. Although the teens most likely to sext are in the 16-17 age range, kids sometimes send or receive their first sext as young as 12 or 13. Don’t wait to start talking about sexting until it’s too late. And never allow your child to have their own phone before you’ve talked about sexting.
- Use current events to start a conversation. If a celebrity or public figure was just caught sexting, or if there was recently a problem in your child’s school, it presents a perfect opportunity to talk. If not, you can always say, “I read this study about sexting today… what do you think about it?”
- Listen first. Give your child the first opportunity to tell you what they think about sexting. They might not say what you expect them to say. Empathize with the fact that most kids who sext say that peer pressure was a major factor in their decision.
- Talk about consequences. Teens are impulsive by nature and may not realize the gravity of sexting. Hitting ‘send’ puts that picture out of their control forever. Your child could also face legal consequences and school discipline.
- Never forward a sext. If your child ever receives a sext, they should delete it immediately. Forwarding a sext could ruin someone’s life, and it could make your child guilty of distributing child pornography.
- Repeat the conversation. When things are important, you never tell them to your child just once. Repeatedly talking about sexting sends the message that this is important, and it allows you to keep tabs on your child’s evolving attitudes about sexting as he or she grows older.
- Monitor your child’s phone. As the parent, you have the absolute right to know what’s going on with your child’s phone. If fact, you have an obligation to know what’s going on with your child’s phone. Services like uKnowKids alerts you to dangerous activity and helps you keep your child out of something he or she will later regret.
Even with these tips, sometimes your conversations about sexting are going to be awkward. And that’s okay. Your kids will forgive you. Maybe they won’t ever say so out loud, but they will be glad one day that you cared enough to talk about it.
Tim Woda is a passionate advocate for protecting children from today’s scariest digital dangers – cyberbullying, sexting and online predators. He is the co-founder of uKnow.com, developers of uKnowKids.