Digital Parents, did you know that sexting, sending a sexually explicit message electronically, via a text, an email or through an app with words, emojis, photos and/or video—is on the rise, especially among teens?

According To The Journal Of The American Medical Association 1 In 4 Teens Are Sexting.

Experts are warning that young people start sexting at younger and younger ages than they used to. The average age a child owns their first own smartphone is 10-years-old. This means that digital parents need to talk to their children about sexting well before that smartphone is handed over. As to what to say to your child, the message will vary based on your child’s age, maturity level, and your family’s beliefs, but one thing is for sure, the message must go much deeper than ‘just don’t do it.’

Why, you may be asking, isn’t that enough?

Studies show that teens are more likely to send and receive a sext with each year of increasing age and some experts are advising that sexting among young people is increasingly an acceptable forms of social interaction among young people.

The reality is that today’s teens have grown up in a world defined by smartphones and social media, where, as the Washington Post said, learning, flirting and hanging out all happens on screens.

Type ‘teenagers and sexting’ into your web browser and much of the research you will find focuses on the legal ramifications that could happen to a young person who sends or receives sexts. Sexting teens have found themselves in legal trouble even when the young people involved were of legal age for sex because, in some states, sexual imagery of those under 18 is considered child pornography. While many states have passed laws to protect teens from legal charges for taking, having or sharing nude or sexual images, not every state has. Additionally, research shows that black and LGBTQ teens have faced disproportionate prosecution, and that more males are charged than females. Your child should understand the laws where you live about sexual consent age and age requirements for sending sexual images electronically, alongside the consequences of breaking the law.

As parents, we cannot like this emerging reality among young people. But ignoring this reality, and trying to tell your child that every bit of it is unacceptable, will not necessarily discourage your child from the behavior and it certainly won’t protect him or her from the potentially negative consequences that will ensue. It’s up to you to explore with your child the modern social aspects of sexuality and prepare them to make informed choices that will keep them safe.

Press Send & The Image Is Forever

What parents may understand more than their teens, thanks to years of experience, is that the person you trust today may not be the person you trust tomorrow. Let your child know that your concerns about sexting are because once you send an image electronically, it will never go away. The person you are sending it to may not respect your privacy and can send it on to countless others. So if your child is asking, ‘What’s the big deal? Everyone does it and I really like so-and-so and he/she she would never hurt me!, explain to your child that they don’t know what someone else will do with that image. Feelings change, especially in young relationships and someone can easily forward your sext without your consent. ‘Promise not to share?’, isn’t enough.

You can also explain to your child that the apps on their phones also have access to the nudes they may have just took. The apps on our phones have access to everything we do on our devices, especially since most users (kids AND adults alike) blindly accept terms of service and access requests when installing apps and games. How many people work for those companies that can have access to your copies images?

A study by the Internet Watch Foundation found that up to 88% of self-generated images have been collected and put on to other sites without the sender‘s knowledge or consent.

Let your child know that we’ve all done something that we later regretted and that no one is perfect. Acknowledge that the stakes are harder for young people in the Digital Age. And talk about how your child would he or she feel if a sexting image was shared among friends at school, with the entire school—and even more broadly.

Talk To Your Child About Sexting

  • Start talking to your child about sexting from a young age
  • Discuss sexting risks, including unwanted distribution of photos or messages and possible legal consequences
  • Emphasize that it’s not ok to pressure someone or to be pressured into sexting, or any other sexual activity—and should never be a way to prove your love or attraction to someone
  • Be sure that your child understands that privacy does not exist when using technology because nothing digital ever truly disappears

Your child needs to be exposed to the complexities of relationships from a young age, recognizing what consent means and what it looks like in a relationship and understanding the difference between explorative and exploitive behavior. As a parent, you should be honest with the challenges and consequences of ignoring peer pressure. But reinforce why it’s in their best interest to do so and let them know that you will be there for them.

And—deep breath—as your child edges towards independent living, you may also find it worthwhile to talk about the realities of sexting. As someone who did not grow up in the Digital Age, you may never consider sexting a healthy sexual behavior. But as a parent, you should recognize that young people need to be educated on how to navigate the internet and form healthy relationships both on and offline. As adults, the decisions we make take into consideration the consequences of our actions and discussing these topics with our kids as they age is will help them form their own opinions as they mature.

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