As your teen gets older, they will start to think about sex, if they haven't already. This is a fact. You did it as a teen and so has every teen for the entire history of humanity. But teens today face challenges we never had to worry about. One of those is teen sexting.
Social media and constant internet access have radically changed things for modern teens. So you may not be sure how to communicate to them the dangers of such things. But in a world where teen sexting is a rising concern amongst parents, it’s vital to learn exactly what to say.
It's "The Talk" for the 21st century, and it's just as important for completely different reasons. So if you're uncomfortable, suck it up, buttercup. Your teen needs you, and you have a job to do.
What Is Sexting?
The term “sexting” may cause your heart to drop. It involves that three letter word that might be the last thing you want to discuss with your kid. But it’s something that can actually get your teenager into a lot of trouble.
Sexting is the sending of any sexually explicit messaging, images, or videos. If your child has access to a phone, computer, or tablet, they are easily susceptible to sexting. They may be the recipient of such lewd messages, but it’s usually followed by requesting similar messages in return.
The problem with teen sexting is that it’s not exactly something you can filter and block like other content. It usually happens from people your teenager trusts or is an acquaintance with. It’s also not always images or video content.
Many times sexting can just be inappropriate flirting or phone sex.
Why You Should Be Paying Attention to Teen Sexting
Your teen getting caught up in sexting while unprepared can lead to some scary consequences. Teenagers are prone to making rash decisions after being pressured by peers or those they admire. Never assume “not my kid.” It’s important to nip it in the bud before any of those dire consequences surfaces.
The most concerning consequence of teen sexting is when messages are forwarded.
This opens up pandora's box to many social, ethical, and legal dilemmas. With “revenge porn” continuously being a rising issue, there’s always (and let me emphasize that, always, as in "every single time") a risk when sending a sext message. With that said, your teenager’s only ally might be you, whether they know it or not. So be there for them before it happens.
That may seem like a no-brainer, as that is generally how you would approach anything risky your teens might get into. But many parents like to avoid “The Talk” altogether and hope for the best. And if they do talk about safe sex, teen sexting is left out of the conversation completely.
How Common is Teen Sexting?
Technology is integrated into our daily lives like it never has been before, and that goes twice for teenagers who are growing up in this digitally driven world. It’s never been more easy for them to get caught up in all the grey areas of that digital world.
Teen sexting is actually on the rise. In fact, current studies show that 27 percent of teens today admit having received inappropriate electronic messages. Similarly, around 15 percent admit having sent inappropriate messages to someone. Most disturbingly, 12 percent admitted to forwarding sexting messages to someone.
If you’re wondering whether boys or girls are more likely to send sext messages, this might surprise you: boys and girls are equally likely to send and forward inappropriate messages.
This same study shows that those current stats have risen in recent years. The author of the study urges parents to teach their teenagers the effects of forwarding such messages. It is, in fact, cyberbullying and harassment.
How to Talk to Your Teen About Sexting
Image via Flickr
Not every parent has figured out how to talk to their kids about sexual topics. Most are, in fact, rather uncomfortable with it. The truth is, though, your teenagers actually want you to talk about these important topics, whether they let you know or not. And the fact is, they need it, whether either of you knows it or not.
Bottom line, you should just come right out and say it. Your apprehension to talk about teen sexting shouldn’t hold you back from saying what’s most important. They need to hear it. It’s simple: Focus on the most important things, and back it up with facts and stats.
Your teens need to be aware of the legal repercussions
It isn’t a scare tactic and it’s the truth. Sending and distributing sexual content of any kind is illegal. Your teenager likely doesn’t know that, but not knowing the rules doesn’t protect you from their consequences.
It is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to send illicit or suggestive photos or videos.
Underage individuals participating in teen sexting will likely face charges with a misdemeanor that will stay on their criminal record. There’s no certainty they can have that criminal record expunged upon turning 18.
This misdemeanor charge usually results in a $500 fine, along with mandatory correction classes.
If that sounds a bit too harsh, consider how easily spread such messages can be. They can end up in the hands of a scary individual. When telling your teenagers the dangers of teen sexting, be sure to include that in your overall message. It’s dangerous, not because it’s illegal; it’s illegal because of the potential dangers.
You Shouldn’t Wait for Your Teen to Get Caught Before You Say Something
The punishment shouldn’t be the first time you and your teenager have the conversation. Punishment is really something you should tread carefully with anyway.
Sexting comes with the possibility of monumental social stigma. It could be bad enough if that were to happen.
So instead of waiting for it to happen, try your best to avoid it. That will save your child the pain and humiliation of something going wrong. Your teenager doesn’t fully understand the massive weight of these things. It’s your job to illustrate to them what could happen.
You Should Tell Them What To Do If They Ever Receive an Inappropriate Message
Image via flickr
The thought of your child receiving an inappropriate photo, video, or vulgar message is scary. You never know how they’ll handle such a thing. It’s absolutely vital that you teach your kids exactly how to handle receiving sexting messages; otherwise, they just might end up in the statistic of the teen’s who forward those messages to their friends.
That’s the first thing you should teach them: Do NOT forward the message to anyone. Doing so only spreads the sexting message around. But even if your child has good intentions, thinking that by sending the message or photo to an adult they are taking care of the situation, they are actually making it worse.
By law, that is considered the distribution of child pornography. In that case, your intentions don’t really matter.
Your child shouldn’t delete the photo either, though. It may be a knee-jerk reaction to get rid of that awful message, but deleting it is not the answer. It’s a little bit like getting rid of evidence to a crime.
Which leads to the next little piece of advice: Call the police. Unwarranted sexual messaging is considered harassment, so your best bet is to seek help from the police.
Anyone of these things may be uncomfortable for them to do alone, so absolutely be there for them to help them out and walk them through it.
The Internet is Incredibly Viral, and Your Kids Should Know That
All it takes is one message -- one suggestive photo or video to someone your child trusts. That person on the other end may not have any sort of ill intent, but naively sharing the image is when it starts to become viral.
It doesn’t have to be revenge porn or reputation sabotage for those sexting messages to be viral. It could be a series of people having no idea the consequences of their actions.
Whether they mean well or not, a person sending the photo or video around is damaging. That’s exactly why those laws are in place -- to protect the victim. A viral photo is enough to ruin your teen's reputation.
But it really doesn’t take much for something to go viral. The very definition of viral is just something that becomes popular after being shared by enough people. The only way to stop something from becoming viral is not to send it at all.
No matter how much your teenager trusts the person they’re sending the message to, viral is viral regardless of intent.
Show Them Some Real-Life Incidents
Image via Pexels
Teen sexting can ruin lives. We know that because it’s happened an unfortunate number of times before. You’ll find a plethora of digital age horror stories online, detailing the monumental consequences of teen sexting.
Take the story of a high school student who sent topless photos of herself to a boy she liked. That photo ended up on the phones of many teenagers around town.
There’s also the story of those teens who put the face of their female classmate on a lewd photo of another girl. They decided it would be a funny joke to send it around to their friends.
In both of those cases, local police stepped in. The lives of these kids involved were, according to them, ruined. These teenagers thought that what they were doing was harmless. They didn’t have parents to communicate to them the dangers of teen sexting.
It’s Just Not Worth It
Bottom line: it’s just not worth it. For a fleeting moment, teen sexting may be an exciting new experience for them. But the long term effects of their actions may put them in harm's way or, at the very least, damage their relationships with their peers.
You can protect your teens while respecting their privacy. Because communicating to them the potential dangers of their behavior could be as simple as a conversation. A conversation that establishes trust and love but full of education and wisdom.
Conversations with your children about any sort of danger should come from a place of love.
Have you talked to your teen about sexting? Have any tips to share? Let us know in the comments!