It’s no secret that within the past few years, the digital era has changed the way we interact and communicate as a society. As adults, we cautiously tread the world of social media while our kids dive headfirst into the sea of apps, sites, and new advancements. Today’s children are prime examples of how the influx of technology impacts peer relationships linking friends with a simple swipe or tap of a screen.
However, all of this sharing from behind a computer screen might encourage some children to share or say things that they would never contemplate doing in person- like sexting. We know children are naturally curious about their morphing bodies and sexual desires. Throw in handheld digital devices and our children have a new medium at their fingertips to seek answers. The act of sexting is an updated version of “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours”, which had previously been done behind closed doors without pixelated documentation.
Sexting: The New Normal
Many researchers are beginning to view sexting as a normal part of adolescence and teen development. According a recent survey hailing from Drexel University, 54 percent of our children under the age of 18 admit to sexting. Many parents are concerned about how to approach this situation in the digital era when over half of our children may have sent or received explicit messages or images considered sexual in nature.
It is easy to believe our children are too smart or conscientious to sext, but we need to realize many kids believe this act is a safer alternative to intercourse. Biologically speaking, they are avoiding the possibilities of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. In their minds, sexting makes sense. Even though our kids may feel that they are doing the right thing and staying safe, their unique stage of brain development can weaken their reasoning and judgment skills.
Children often overlook the lasting consequences a sext can have on their digital footprint and reputation for years to come. Sexting behaviors have the potential to open a child up to extortion, cyberbullying, harassment, and prosecution for the felony of distributing or possessing child pornography.
Tips For Parents To Handle Sexting
Modern parents can’t simply put their blinders on and ignore the sexting revolution occurring among our kids. Listed below is a guide for educating our kids on sexting and tech safety:
Take a deep breathe and begin an open conversation about sexting. It can be really hard to remain calm, but an atmosphere free from name calling or arguing can create a safe environment for honesty. If we fail to do this, our kids may become defensive and stop talking.
Make sure children have a solid concept of how social media and text messages can be shared. Anything posted or sent electronically has the potential to be saved, forwarded, or retrieved. A good rule of thumb is to only post what they are comfortable with a grandparent seeing.
Avoid blaming friends or romantic interests. Playing this card will only hinder communication while laying the groundwork for dishonesty and mistrust.
Be honest about the legal ramifications of underage sexting. Children under the age of 18 have been prosecuted for distributing or possessing child pornography– even if the sexting was consensual. Children who have been sent a sext, need to respond with a message asking that person to stop sending the images and find a trustworthy adult to witness them delete the images. This act will show prosecutors that a child didn’t want the image and may help avoid charges if legal action is threatened.
Create a technology contract for the family that includes a section on sexting. Let children know that you don’t approve of this behavior. Proactively laying out all expectations and consequences today will help avoid issues down the road.
Keep devices and phones out of the bedroom or bathroom. Make it a family policy to only use electronics and technology in common living areas of the home.
Arm them with safe sexting tips. Give children ways to protect themselves if they do choose to sext. Only sext with a trusted and committed partner, don’t share passwords, never send images to strangers, and keep your face/identifying traits out of the photos. However, stress once a photo is sent the receiver holds all the power in the relationship.
How do you handle sexting in the digital era within your family?