Is Your Child Sexting? What Parents Need to Know (page 2)

Is Your Child Sexting? What Parents Need to Know

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Updated on May 19, 2009

While the legal system is slapping teens with outsized charges for sexting behavior, it's the real predators that we should be worried about, says Richard Guerry, Executive Director of the Institute for Responsible Online and Cell Phone Communication. Guerry warns that private videos and photos are increasingly becoming stolen fodder for sexually suggestive or explicit websites and blogs, even when the personal content is password protected or saved on a private hard drive.

The consequences of 'sextcasting', the wider dissemination of images and video across the Internet, are far more serious than those of simple camera-phone messaging, says Guerry. “Sexting is limited to cell-phones and is really a method of 'sextcasting,' which is a much larger issue.” Parents and lawmakers worried about sexting are already behind the times, says Guerry, who says that where previously parents worried about keeping kids from stumbling across online pornography sites, now they should be worrying about preventing children from becoming unwitting “content providers”.

It's easy to vilify sexting as an out-of-control trend to be stopped at all costs. But parents should consider sexting in the larger context of the changing sexual and technological attitudes of the next generation. “We need to really take a step back and and look at it and understand it,” says Lipkins, who thinks of sexting as a symptom, not a source, of teen sexual attitudes.

Lipkins says that prosecuting kids for sexting behavior is a misguided approach to a new problem that's best solved the old-fashioned way: by communicating with your child about risks and teaching responsible behavior. “Parents have to talk about sexting behavior as part of other behaviors, and really try to have kids learn how to navigate this world without us, because we're not going to be around forever,” says Lipkins. “We want kids to learn how to make healthy decisions on their own.”

Want to keep your child safe from sexting and its consequences? Here's how to help:

  • Communication is Key
    Kids probably won't respond well if you ask them pointblank, “Are you sexting?” In fact, many may not even recognize the term. Instead of grilling your child, keep informed about what's going on generally, from crushes and relationships to friendships and bullying. Many small conversations will give you a much better idea of your child's social life than one big interrogation, and you child will be more apt to talk to you if she feels you're consistently on the level. If you learn that your child is dating or engaging in sexual behaviors, have a frank talk about sex and include the topic of sexting. If not, make sure to have a discussion about bullying that addresses the issue of using text messages to harass or humiliate others.
  • Be Real About Risks
    Teens are neurologically disposed to be more impulsive and less rational than adults, which makes it all the more important that they know the dangers of sexting. Although it might not be an easy conversation, parents should communicate to teens that school-wide embarrassment, legal consequences, and viral distribution across the Internet are among the very real risks of this seemingly inconsequential behavior. Stopping to think twice may make all the difference if your teen is thinking of pressing “send” on something she might regret.
  • Emphasize Empathy
    Sexting isn't a two-way street: it's more like a multi-lane highway. That means that kids who may not be sending sexts are receiving them, forwarding them to others, and contributing to a potentially malicious environment of gossip and harassment. Urge your child to think before forwarding sexually provocative images of other people – how would he feel if that were his image instead of someone else's? Using empathy may help your teen make the decision to press “delete” instead of saving or forwarding.
  • Teach 21st Century Responsibility
    Kids who may be model citizens offline can make big mistakes online, so it's important to stress that responsible behavior extends to the world of email, text messaging, video chatting and social networking. Make sure that your child knows that anything posted online, or sent via cell phones or email, can be saved, shared, and virally disseminated across the Internet. That means that friends, enemies, strangers, teachers, parents and future employers could potentially see your images and videos.

Parents should see sexting not as an isolated trend, but as a new expression, fueled by technology, of the social and sexual experimentation that has always characterized adolescence. That means that the best way for parents to keep kids safe is still to send a message of their own, which emphasizes responsibility, explains the risks, and keeps the lines of communication open.

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