We won’t lie. This won’t be a comfortable conversation to have with your kid.
Yet, it’s more important than ever for some real talk about sexting. Why?
Sexting has become
a regular occurrence among teens.
In case you haven’t heard the term before:
- Sexting is the act of sending sexually explicit messages over text or through direct messages on social media platforms.
According to child and adolescent psychiatrist, Justin J. Schleifer, MD, teenagers say that 90% of their peers are sexting.
As technology and social media rapidly change, it’s easy to forget to include this in the “modern” sex talk with our kids. Or, it’s less awkward to simply tell them not to send nude pictures rather than explain the potential consequences. But with 25% of young people engaging in sexting, it’s time to take a different approach.
Before we get into that, we have to answer this important question:
What are some reasons why teens sext?
- They are peer pressured into it. Maybe their 15-year-old boyfriend of 2 months is sending them sexually explicit photos and they feel pressured to send some in return.
- They see it hyped up as a rite of passage. Maybe they've watched a friend explore sexting. Or, they've seen it glamorized by celebrities who increase their Instagram following by 100,000 every time a naked picture is leaked.
- They have technology that makes it easier than ever. With their cell phones, kids can send nude photos with the click of a button on apps like Snapchat because they think, “it goes away after 5 seconds” or “I would know if they screenshotted it”.
- They don’t realize the legal and emotional consequences of sexting.
That might come as a shock. There are legal consequences of sending explicit images? Yes.
Legally, sexting is considered the possession and distribution of child pornography.
The legal consequences vary state-by-state. Some have laws in place specifically for minors, while others will prosecute kids as an adult. The consequences range from community service, jail time, or registering as a sexual offender. This goes for sending OR receiving sexually explicit material from a minor.
Emotionally, sexting may take a toll on a kid’s mental health.
Kids may send a nude photo because they don’t realize it might affect their emotional well-being. They could think if they’re careful and don’t get caught, they won’t regret their decision to trust another child with this content.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case because sexting can expose kids to a new set of worries.
“What if my nude photos get leaked?”
After they've sent a sext, they might feel overwhelmed with worry about what another person could do with the photos. Especially after a break-up, they might fear their ex will react with revenge porn by forwarding images to others without consent out of spite, anger, or jealousy.
“What if it affects my reputation?”
If photos are leaked, they may be bullied by friends and school peers. Girls are particularly vulnerable to this, as researchers found they are held to a different standard when engaging in sexting. They often experience “slut-shaming” by being ridiculed for their physical appearance, their dress, and their presumed level of sexual activity.
If kids stress about their photos being leaked or are being victimized by others for it, their emotional well-being will be impacted. They could develop:
- body image issues (leading to eating disorders)
- post-traumatic stress disorder
All this from a photo? Yes.
So, what can you do as a parent?
It’s time to sit down and have an open conversation with your kid. We know it could feel very awkward, but educating them on how to protect themselves from the consequences of sexting is vitally important.
Here are some tips to help you (and your kid) have the conversation.
1) Ask questions.
Start by asking your child if they even know what sexting is.
- Have they heard about it from movies or TV shows?
- Do they have friends that have talked about it with their parents?
- Do they know of other teens that have engaged in it?
Understanding how much they know about it will help you both navigate the conversation.
2) Make them feel comfortable.
You are the trusted adult in their life. Make sure your kid knows that:
- You are always open to talking about sexting and other difficult topics.
- You want them to feel comfortable asking you questions.
Do your best to hear what they have to say. Making your child feel comfortable enough to ask questions and talk about their opinions will promote open communication moving forward!
3) Set healthy boundaries.
Teach your teen to set healthy boundaries with others, especially if they have a romantic partner. Remind them:
- They always have the right to say no if someone asks them for a nude photo.
- They can always come to you if they experience non-consensual sexting like receiving unwanted explicit images from others.
Create the understanding that your child can always get your help for ANY issue, not just sexting. This way, you can be sure that nothing slips past you while you support your kid through the situation.
4) Act with intention.
Encourage them to be extremely mindful of the content they interact and engage with online. They should understand:
- The internet is forever, even if it seems like it isn’t with the self-destructing messages and 5-second photo timers.
- They should never post or send anything they wouldn’t be comfortable having teachers at school or other parents see.
- There are legal and emotional consequences of sexting.
Take the time to intentionally educate your kid. Laying down the rules may seem easier but too often this just leads to rebellious behavior. Instead, explain your concerns and clearly convey the legal/personal ramifications that come with sexting.
Have these conversations and protect your kid from finding out the hard way that sending a sexually explicit photo is permanent.
Most don’t understand the seriousness of sexting because no one has ever taken the time to explain it to them. Talking with your kid about the consequences of sexting and what is considered child pornography is a crucial, tough conversation you need to be having.
After all, wouldn’t you rather be the one to talk to them about it instead of someone else?