Sexting strikes fear into the hearts of parents. Or does it? I heard a radio panel discussion on sexting. These people are ‘in the know’ and are also parents. (Listen to the discussion.) The opinions expressed are those of the participants. It will definitely get a strong reaction from some of you. It will certainly give you something to think about. Let’s dive in.
Q: What is sexting?
A: The sending of sexually explicit photographs or messages via mobile phone.
Q: What are the legal issues around sexting?
A: For starters, the photo can be considered child pornography. It is illegal if sent by kids under the age of 18, or contains pictures of underage children. Sending these pictures can also be considered a form of harassment. It’s rare for minors to be prosecuted (17 states have legislation decriminalizing sexting or making it a misdemeanor).
Q: Who does more sexting, girls or boys?
A: Girls tend to take more provocative, sexually explicit photos of themselves than boys. Boys are more likely to forward them. Research shows that it’s only happening with about 2% of teens and tweens… but it’s still 2%. That’s a lot of kids.
Q: Are our kids getting mixed messages from society?
A: Yes. There are double standards about sexuality (movies, ads, clothing, and how teens are portrayed), “but when it come to them having a sexual identity, we freak out.”
Q: Should parents check emails and texts on their kids’ phones?
A: “We cannot be spies. His phone has a lock on it. I stopped going through his emails.”
A: “Don’t apologize for being a spy. It’s part of your responsibility as a parent.”
Q: Does finding a potentially shocking photo on your teen’s phone mean s/he is sexually active?
A: No. It means they are exploring sexuality. In theory, this isn’t much different from the Playboy magazine under the mattress. It’s a digital version of what our generation did.
Q: Does this mean that sexting can be seen as a normal part of teen development?
A: Yes; however, technology brings other concerns.
Q: What are the ramifications of sexting for teens? the concerns of parents?
A: It’s illegal. It impacts your reputation. Kids can make mistakes. We made ours privately, theirs are public. Is it right to forward it? What about being on the receiving end? Are you (the teen) able to set limits with your friends?
Q: How can parents be proactive?
A: Kids are already talking about their body when they’re eight, nine and ten. Many have smart phones at that age, too. Parents must begin the conversation at these younger ages. Ideally, you’ve already talked about it by the time a picture shows up on the phone. If not, seeing the picture is a great opportunity to begin to talk about sexuality and responsibility.
Q: What should you say if you find a sexually explicit photo?
A: Tell them why you’re concerned, and why they need to learn to stand up for themselves when receiving a sext. “I saw this on your phone. This young lady sent it to someone. It wasn’t even meant for you to receive. It’s illegal. What if this had been your cousin or your friend or your sister?” (This dramatically changed one child’s reaction.) Another suggestion was, “Don’t harass other kids by resending this photo” because it might not be consensual.
Q: What else can parents do?
A: Take a proactive role in understanding what’s going on. Keep talking about who they’re dating and what the relationship is like. How are they treating each other and behaving? Share a little more about your own relationship with your partner. Your modeling of a healthy relationship is their best example.
Reactions, anyone? Let’s get a conversation going below. This is about more than pictures. Our kids are growing up in a culture very different from the one we experienced. We need to help them learn to cope with these challenges and make healthy decisions, where they come away respecting themselves.