Talking to Teens About Sexting
This conversation might be uncomfortable, BUT PARENTS NEED TO DO IT! This video helps parents prepare for the “No Sexting” conversation. I give you 5 reasons your child may think sexting is ok, questions for starting the conversation, reasons why this conversation is so important, and tips to get the job done! You can do it! This video will help.
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Talking to Teens About Sexting
What the heck is this!?!? Wow. Oh no, I am blushing. Hopefully, you will never have to read your child’s sexting messages, but if you do, good luck burning those images off your brain.
Sexting is sending sexually explicit words, photos, or video messages on an electronic device. This is a popular way for adolescents to explore sexuality, flirtation, and romantic socialization. Yes, your child too.
A study published in JAMA Pediatrics showed that:
- At least 1 in 4 teens are receiving sexually explicit texts and emails
- At least 1 in 7 are sending the sexting messages
- More than 1 in 10 teens are forwarding sexting messages without consent
Hello, my name is Kristina Campos. I am the founder of the Impactful Parent. Every week I give you parenting videos that can help you in your parenting journey. If you have a particular topic or parenting question about your school-aged child that you would like me to address, please submit it at firstname.lastname@example.org or by messaging me on social media. All submissions are kept anonymous.
Today’s episode is about adolescent sexting. I will tell you 5 common misconceptions teens have about sexting, why you need to talk to them about the dangers of sexting and stick around to the end because I will also give parents 4 tips for having this important conversation. Let’s get started!
This needs to be a separate conversation from the sex talk with your teenager. In fact, I would have this conversation the minute you know your child understands what sex is and has an electronic device available to them as a way to communicate with others.
Not all adolescents have a brain developed enough to internalize the consequences of sexting, so adolescents may rationalize why sexting is ok. I feel it’s important for parents to understand the frame of mind their child might be in when you have this “No Sexting Conversation.” By understanding the child’s baseline knowledge and beliefs on the subject, the parent can troubleshoot and address some of the child’s misbeliefs.
Here are 5 reasons your child feels like sexting is ok and why they do it.
- Many teens think everyone is doing it. Of course, this isn’t true, but they may not be wrong that many teens experiment with this. I think it’s good for parents to understand the peer pressure your child might feel to play along with a potential love interest. Having said that, teaching kids to not follow the crowd and watch out for their safety is also important. Parents hearing this episode today can relay the dangers of sexting over to their teens is one important step toward teaching that personal safety.
- Adolescents have a difficult time comprehending the notion of digital permanency. The teen brain learns much better by doing and experiences than by theories and explanations. So if they delete a message or it vanishes automatically through the app, and the teen can’t find it, the teenager thinks it’s gone. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
- Many adolescents believe their message, photo, or video is safe with the recipient. The child simply trusts the person receiving their message and thinks they would NEVER be so cruel to share their photo. This belief we know to be untrue because statistics tell us that 1 in 10 kids will forward a sexting message to others without the consent of the sender. Your child’s trust for the recipient of their messages also leads to a belief that ‘No one will ever know I sent a photo/video.’
- Many adolescents believe that sexing is safer than having real sex. This belief is misleading because statistics show that teens participating in sexting are more likely to be physical with their partners sooner than those who don’t. Another danger of this belief is that adolescents will use it to justify a compromise with their partner. One lover will want to be physical, and the other doesn’t, so the compromise is sexting.
- Adolescents can’t fathom the consequences. Their brain isn’t developed, but don’t let their frontal cortex be their excuse either. Yes, teens are wired to act more up their emotions than their logical brains. Still, parents must instill these consequences in their children and keep reminding them. Consequences like: Being suspended from school, damaged reputation, humiliation, bullying, blackmail, suspension from athletic teams or other clubs at school, being charged with a felony, losing their job, images going viral, and the list goes on.
The potential dangers of sexting might be obvious to the adult. Still, the average teen doesn’t seem to internalize the consequences. Many teens feel like it just won’t happen to them.
So now that we established the frame of mind, your child might be in when you have the sexting conversation and some of the consequences of sexting, let’s talk about one of the most important consequences of sexting your teenager. You absolutely need to know: The LAW.
Under federal law, it is illegal for a child to send or receive images of sexting. Some states also have laws classifying sexting with a minor as child pornography regardless if the messages were sent and received with consent. Your child can be charged with creating, possessing, or distributing child porn. This is another reason why talking to children about the risks versus gains of sexting is so important.
4 Tips for Talking to Adolescents about Sexting:
- Start the conversation with questions. The mistake that most parents make is lecturing. They walk into a child’s room and start to talk about the dangers, but their words become lectures because they are the ones doing all the talking. You don’t want to do that. Adolescents are more likely to hear you when you LISTEN TO THEM FIRST. That means starting off the conversation with some questions like,
- What do you know about sexting?
- Have you ever had a sexting message sent to you?
- How did that make you feel?
- Are all your friends doing this? Is this popular in your school?
- Why do you think kids are doing this?
- How do you feel about sexting? Is it innocent, or is it dangerous?”
The answers to these questions are important for a parent to know. They will break the ice and guide the rest of the conversation, so you know what kind of myths you need to debunk and what important information you need to instill.
- Drive into your child’s brain the following points:
- Never take a picture or video of yourself without any clothes and send it.
- Never KEEP a sexual picture or video of someone else. Some states even consider possessing such photos as child pornography, even if the photo was given with consent. However, tell your child to keep text messages for proof of consent.
- Never share sexual images of another person. Period.
- Tell your child they should come to you for help if they are ever pressured to do sexting, feel uncomfortable about a text message, or need help. Tell your child they won’t be in trouble.
- Keep asking more questions. If you let your child lead the conversation, your influence will be more impactful. It may seem counter-intuitive but allowing your child to do most of the talking will allow them to internalize the conversation more than if you are talking at them. You will need to keep the conversation going by asking more questions and leading your child to say the answers aloud. For example, you may want to ask:
- What do you know about sextortion?
- What makes you confident that your friends can be trusted with something sacred?
- How can you protect yourself from the consequences?
- Do you know other people that had their photos spread around the school?
- How might a sexting conversation go wrong?
- What will you do if you ever get a sexting photo?
- What do you think will happen if you don’t sext message back?
You might know the answers to these questions but giving your child the opportunity to speak the answers aloud instead of you lecturing will increase your chances of a successful conversation.
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