Once again the issue of sexting hits the headlines… this time with NYC mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner's
(aka online alias "Carlos Danger") sexting scandal. It seems as though Mr. Weiner's decisions will continue to haunt him, his career
, and his personal life for quite some time. While he is an adult who made his own decisions, while fully aware of the consequences, it brings up the issue once again of sexting and the repercussions of it. If an adult can't escape the humiliation
of sexting, how does it affect the life of a teen?
I have written several blogs on this issue primarily because I want to educate the public on the reality and seriousness of it. If you aren't aware of what sexting is, it's basically a combination of “sex” and “texting”. The word was first used by the media back in 2005. Sexting is sending sexually explicit texts and/or nude photos via cell phones. It is a growing trend among today’s teenagers. In fact, if you have a teen who has a device that can take a picture via cell, such as a gaming device, tablet, etc., then there is potential for sexting. Maybe you're thinking, "not my teen...” consider this: research tells us that one in four teens are sending these messages and approximately 48% are on the receiving end. With statistics like that it's evident that someone's teen is doing it. Unfortunately, sexting isn't going away anytime soon. With more and more teens having internet capability, the chances of them sexting also increase.
"Not my teen...”
A concerned parent contacted me after I posted my last sexting blog because he found out that his teen daughter was sexting. He was trying everything to protect her and her reputation, only she didn't see the long-term consequences of her actions. In this gentleman’s state, minors who are caught texting sexual images are charged under the childpornography laws. His question was, "What should I do? How can I get her to stop before it's too late?”
Many would say this is an easy fix --- just take away the electronic device. That is a fair punishment if your teen's abusing technology, but that saying "where there's a will there's a way" still applies to teens today. I've seen teens who are on "restriction" still manipulate their way into using electronic devices. For example, it's not uncommon for friends of the "restricted" teen to let him or her borrow their phone or come to their house to use their equipment. In addition, some teens are quite clever and can still manage to get online at home all while covering their digital tracks. If parents aren't tech savvy, or have controls set, they may never know their teen was breaking the rules.
So, what do you do if you find out your teen is sexting? How do you protect him/her? These are hard questions to answer, but I'll try. We'll take two approaches to sexting: 1. Prevention and 2. Intervention
(the one we all hope to avoid). If your teen is already sexting, then you're in intervention mode - aka the cart before the horse approach. With intervention your teen is already sexting and you're scrambling to get things back into control. However, if the horse remains before the cart, prevention, then you have more control of the situation.
Prevention - Keeping the horse in front of the cart
1. First and foremost, prevention is the goal when it comes to sexting. Research tells us that 76.2% of teens who were propositioned to sext admitted to having had sexual intercourse…now that's cause for alarm! To top it off, new research indicates this problem is happening across prevalent ethnic minority (African American and Hispanic) youth as well. A study reported in the journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking that more than 20% of students reported sending either a nude or semi-nude picture/video or a sext-only message, and about 30% reported receiving a sext. This study demonstrates that sexting is a national problem facing all teens.
2. Educate yourself about the electronic devices your teen owns. Know the apps that your teen has downloaded. For example, the ever-growing app,“Snapchat” is becoming a way that teens are experimenting with sexting? You don't need a phone, an IPod will work just fine. Download the app and snap and chat. The message content will “disappear” after a few seconds, which leads some teen users to believe that sending sexts may be more secure than it really is. Sadly, all it takes is one screen shot prior to the image disappearing, and the photo is out there for the whole world to see.
3. Talk through specific sexting dilemmas/scenarios with your teen. For example, “what would you do if...” questions provide great teachable moments. You can even encourage your teen to ask you “what would you do if...”questions. This provides a non-confrontational way to educate your teen on how to conduct him or herself online. It will also give you an opportunity to provide education and guidance.
4. Periodically search for your teen online to see what pops up. It may not be a bad idea to search for his or her friends as well. Many teens still don't use privacy settings, so you can easily access information about them. If you're not keeping tabs on your teen through randomly searching for him or her - college admission reps and potential employers are! At least if you find something first, you can help your teen clean up that online reputation before it affects an admission decision or job offer.
5. Know the social sites your teen is using. I love the idea of setting up a contract with your teen; he or she will see them many times in their future, so why not introduce them early? Odds are they are under your contract with the phone provider to have their phone, so why not make a sub-contract with that contract? Establish the rules and consequences for using electronic devices. Let them know that they will be subject to random text searches, that you will view their social networking sites, and that all apps downloaded must first be approved by you, (and any other rule that you want to enforce.)
I am aware that not all share my opinion on not allowing teens full privacy. Time and time again I get comments from readers that teens deserve more privacy, or better yet a teen reads my blog and disagrees with me asking parents to be more involved. To take a fair stance, I agree that teens do need privacy, but they also need guidance and supervision. Parents don't have to read everything their teen is posting, just randomly browse through the content. If a teen knows ahead of time that this is part of the arrangement, and he/she has agreed to it prior to getting that new phone, then there are no surprises or problems. Believe me if a teen wants that phone, tablet, laptop, etc, badly enough, there won't be a problem signing a fair contract with his/her parents. It's all about prevention...
Intervention - When the cart is ahead of the horse
1. Okay, so you've caught your teen sexting… what next? Sexting is just one part of the problem. The big picture must include uncovering what else is going on to make your teen want to sext. Is it peer pressure to please a boyfriend or girlfriend? Is it seeking acceptance? Is it a lack of confidence leading him or her to do something they may later regret, or is it the mere curiosity of being a teen? Find out the reason behind your teen’s sexting and work your way up. In order to fix the problem, you have to go to the root of it.
2. Understand the legal ramifications of sexting. Many teens have been jailed and placed on probation all because of sexting. Worse yet, you could be charged with the distribution of child pornography if a sexually explicit picture of a minor is being distributed. Taking, sending, or forwarding nude photos of anyone under the age of 18, including yourself, could get you slapped with hefty legal consequences. In some states the charges on a minor soliciting child pornography are the same as for adults, not to mention it could also prevent teens from receivingcollege scholarships and job offers. That's not to mention the embarrassment of having pictures of your nude body floating around the Internet.
Check out the laws in your state:
3. Set up parental controls on your teen’s electronic devices. Many phone service providers have plans to limit calls or texts. For a small fee each month some even provide an email or text telling you what numbers have been called or texted during school hours. You can also block calls after a certain time at night. If your teen is sexting you need to "up the ante" and be in the know of what's going on.
Set computer settings to age appropriate sites, especially for tweens and young teens. This may become more difficult if you have an older teen. Become friends online with your teen on social networking sites, being a part of your teen's online world is an important way to stay active in your teen's life.
If you need more information on setting up controls, here are some great sites to help you monitor what your teen is doing online:
4. Speak with your teen about the ramifications of teen sexting. Here are some key points to share with your teen regarding sexting:
- Many college representatives and prospective job employers search online for information on potential candidates. If they find something that is detrimental or shows poor judgment, it can actually hurt their chances of getting into college or securing a job.
- Be upfront with teens about resisting peer pressure. Teach them to be confident in who they are and to not feel pressured to do something they know is wrong.
- Speak with your teen about not responding impulsively to anything on-line or via text. Filtering can help a trigger happy teen from making a permanent, potentially life-altering mistake. Encourage your teen to evaluate the consequences of posting his or her thoughts or pictures before hitting the send button.
- Speak about online reputations. Discuss how sexting may have a detrimental impact on what others will think of them.
- Be honest about sex. Speak with them about sex, meaningful relationships, STDs and pregnancy. You would much rather have this talk in preventative mode rather than after something has already happened.
- Speak with your teen about being a responsible digital citizen. Help your teen understand that messages or pictures sent over the Internet or phones are not private or anonymous.
5. Last but not least, speak openly and honestly with your teen. Relationships are important throughout this span of development. Exercise patience when having those content-sensitive conversations.
Here are some great sites for parents and teens regarding on-line safety:
Unfortunately, sexting is not going to go away anytime soon, but you can take measures to protect your teen. It's important to remain in the know of what your teen is doing online. Too many teens have been put in jail and placed on probation all because of a sext. Reputations have been destroyed and lives have been altered. It is amazing that one picture, which takes less than a few seconds to take, holds the power to change a person's life forever. Is it really worth it? Keep your horse in front of the cart and act in prevention mode…because when you're intervening it's too late.
Learn more about the dangers of teen sexting...
The Let's Get Real Show
August 4, 2013 Show #10
Texas Conflict Coach on Blog Talk Radio