The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy surveyed teens and young adults for a report on sex and technology. The results may shock most parents. Overall, 39 percent of teens, starting at age 13, send or post sexually suggestive text messages — known as sexting — as well as emails. Forty-eight percent of teens report receiving these NSFS (not safe for school) messages. Also, kids who start this practice young tend to increase their risky ‘net behaviors as they become young adults. The problem of sexting is so overwhelming and the consequences so severe, it’s not unfair to ask what a concerned parent can do?
Fortunately, there are some key actions parents can take to prevent impressionable teens from sending racy texts. The trick, say many experts, is to never stop talking to your teen, even if you think he or she has gotten the message. Girls, especially, are prone to feeling like they have to “please” a boyfriend or potential boyfriend. But the reasons for sexting, for both boys and girls, are mostly the same. They send racy messages to boys or girls they like, they send racy gossip about kids they dislike and they act out sexually for attention and to show off.
Here are some tips for talking to teens about the dangers of sexting:
1- Explain the short-term consequences of sexting. For example, ask your teen what would happen if someone else got their hands on their racy texts. Most teens that send indecent messages trust that the person it was meant for will keep it a secret. This rarely happens.
2- Back up your point by saving online stories about teens whose sexually suggestive messages were publicly exposed. Also, explain that transmitting photos —a likely next step after sexting — of anyone under the age of 18 is illegal and can land them in trouble with the law for life.
3- Listen. One way to really know what’s going on in your teen’s life is by asking what’s going on and listening to the answer. You never know when your teen will reveal important information about who is engaging in sexting and other risky ‘net behaviors unless you ask them simple questions like, “How was your day?” or “What happened with that argument last week?”
4- Watch TV together. If asking, “How was your day,” isn’t getting you much beyond a few “fines,” and “goods,” try spending some time watching your teen’s favorite television shows. On an episode of American Idol, for instance, when a story about a contestant’s background reveals that she was bullied in school, it’s the perfect time to broach the subject personally, asking, “What do you think about what happened to that contestant?” or “Do you know anyone in school that happened to?” Ask leading questions to find out what caused the bullying. Conversations like these can lead to issues of sexting.
Studies show that risky behaviors like sexting can lead to low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, inappropriate relationships and bullying. However, failing to prevent sexting in the first place makes coping with these problems extraordinarily difficult. The good news for parents who are overwhelmed by technology is that there are tools out there that can help you monitor your teens’ phone and computer activities.
Concerned about sexting? Learn the basics and what you can do to help prevent the dangerous consequences with our eBook: “Understanding Sexting: Nine Things Every Parent Should Know”