In today’s society, children are being exposed to sexual content and adult topics much faster in life through technology. Most kids want or have the latest tech gadgets or smartphone, which can mean access to communication with peers, and also people they do not know.
One of the concerns coming up more in counseling practice with teenagers is sexting. Sexting is sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photographs, videos or images, primarily between mobile phones, of oneself to others. It may also include the use of a computer or any digital device.
Besides these scary statistics, it is important for parents to know what can happen when your kid is caught sexting. Of course, the obvious things come to mind of it getting shared and damage to self-esteem, reputation, and peer status. But, an even worse consequence is that in some states, a minor can be charged with distributing child pornography if they send a sext of themselves to another minor or if they share a sext that was sent to them with another minor. A minor being charged with this could have their name placed on the sexual offender registry.
How should parents handle these types of issues? Remember that even good kids can get caught up in bad decisions and there is no guaranteed way to keep our kids from making mistakes. However, educating our kids and being open and honest about impacts, expectations and consequences is the best bet.
Start out at a young age talking with kids about private parts not being bad, but being special and this is the reason for keeping them to ourselves. As they start using electronics where there may be periods of unmonitored times, let them know not only the consequences to posting these special parts online, but also how to handle the situation if they were to receive a photo, video or message from someone else of that nature. Let them know that it is important for them to delete what was received immediately and not to share it with anyone else. Open communication with kids of all ages and an openness to listening to what they are being faced with in life will not only bring you closer to your child, but will help you better able to keep them safe.
With all the different tech gadgets and smartphone apps, it can be very difficult for parents to monitor every aspect of what is being projected to their children. Parents need to have conversations with teens and pre-teens before they have unmonitored access to technology devices such as computers, tablets and cellphones.
Youth need to understand the possibilities, responsibilities and consequences of technology misuse, especially if sexual in nature. A few of the major points that should be covered are:
Let your kids know the long-term impacts this could have on their reputation, future relationships, and future opportunities for college and career. As teenagers, their brain development does not always grasp the long-term consequences of such behavior as they may have more of an instant gratification mentality.
Just because someone says they won’t send it to, show it to, or share it with others does not mean they will keep their word. Breakups happen, friendships can fall apart, and even the best of intentions can crumble to the ground in a weak moment. Accounts can also get hacked making images and message public.
Talk with them about different apps where things “disappear” and that with screenshot ability, it’s extremely easy to make sure that it in fact does not really disappear and will be captured for the rest of time.
Having these open and honest conversations regularly will build trust and understanding. Make sure to check-in periodically to see how things are going and if they are experiencing any technology-related troubles. Last, always remind them of how special and important they are to you, and to God, that you and Jesus love them no matter what, that you are always there for any help they might need, and that you simply want the best for them now and in the future.
Karen Gotto, Licensed Mental Health Counselor for Lutheran Family Service