Due to mobile phones becoming an integral part of our everyday lives, there are even more headaches for parents to take care of. And besides from the general fact of spending too much time on the phone, there are things modern kids take as innocent pranks which in fact would most likely cause significant problems both for youngsters and sometimes even their families. And one of such things is sexting.
Texting today is probably the most popular way for people (and especially teenagers) to communicate with each other. Moreover, most people believe it is more polite to send an SMS rather than to call a person. Apart from other reasons, such popularity of texting, both via mobile phone or web messengers, is explained by its simplicity. Through SMS-messages, modern people can talk, gossip, discuss plans, help with homework, tell jokes, complain, set dates and break up. It is easier to overcome self-doubt and confusion when the person you are talking to does not see you or hear your voice. But when the communication becomes way too frank and sexual, we are talking about sexting.
What is sexting? In simple words, it is the process of exchanging sexually explicit texts, videos, and pictures. Surveys show there are more than 45% of teenagers who have posted or sent sexually suggestive messages and the bigger part of this number is actually teen girls. Generally, there is nothing wrong in discussing sexual issues with other people of your age, but most teens do not understand the consequences of sending their nude and semi-nude pictures. The fact that Internet is not a room where you can close the windows and lock the door to discuss your interests privately is pretty disturbing. Once something goes online, it remains there forever, and you never know what consequences you would have to cope with once your nude pic would be seen by others.
Some psychologists today claim that sexting phenomenon is actually a normal part of teens growing up – in all times they would examine their bodies and their sexuality, but with the technologies becoming an integral part of our lives this process changed accordingly. With the subtle line between private and public, information is getting thinner each day; a greater part of this self-examination process can be open to other teens.
But the problem is at pressing the ‘send’ button for a sext containing nude pic or sexually explicit text, a person loses control of it, and no one knows how far this message will go. There are plenty of examples of school projects on IT topics, where kids post their photo and try tracking how far around the world it would travel. Most of the time the results are pretty impressive. Would anyone among teens who sext want their nude pic to be seen on the other part of the globe? Or do they want it to be seen by their school principal or parents? For sure, the answer is ‘No’ – but no one really thinks about consequences when they take such pics.
As mentioned, a great part of sexting is teens' voluntary act, but statistics are disturbing with about 15% of girls engaged in sexting who were actually forced to do this, either by older people who are interested in teen nudity or by their peers. Thus, a question of peer-to-peer communication should be included in e-safety campaigns.
What can you do as a parent to prevent your child from sexting and issues it can provoke?
- Talk about it. The moment your child gets his/her first phone is the right time to explain the importance of personal photos and information to remain private. Explain to your kid that sending their own or keeping someone’s revealing photos goes against the law and it goes to the category of child porn.
- Encourage your kids to talk about what is bothering them. Teens who face sexting problems are usually left alone with this situation: most of them do nothing, and do not tell anyone, neither parents nor friends. They are waiting for everything to resolve by itself. Encourage your teen to ask you about things and situations that disturbed or bothered him and never shame him for anything. Thus, you will remain a good friend who always knows about everything that happens with your child.
- Be an example. Do not keep any information of erotic and pornographic nature, candid photos, videos, details of family life on the devices to which your kid has access to and do not discuss them with the child. But do not avoid discussions about sex. Better if the child will get an idea of sexual relations in the family. Otherwise, he or she would get this info from other (not the most reliable) sources.
- Use the technologies to prevent your kid from sexting. Parental control options in browsers and on most mobile devices can help you protect your kids from an unwanted experience. Parental monitoring apps is a good solution for protecting your child. They allow you to keep track of all the activities on your kid's devices and see if there are any troubles.
But remember, as soon as your kids enter adolescence, their computer skills get better, and the technical limitations will not keep their curiosity restrained. Thus, parental monitoring should not be your only means – teach your kids rather than limit, and you will never need to worry about their security and wellbeing.
Jana Rooheart is a blogger and online safety expert at http://pumpic.com/. She is devoted to making the Internet safer for kids and to warning parents about all the possible hazards of online activities.