The “sex talk” you have with your teen should now include a digital form of sexual exploration: sexting.
To start, what is the best way to broach the topic? Dr. Megan Moreno, a pediatrician and vice chair of digital health at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, suggests parents try to put sexting in context before having a frank discussion with their kids. One way to do that is to think back to the types of risky, impulsive behavior you may have engaged in as a teen, with the understanding that the embarrassing stuff you did was rarely seen by anyone else. However, the fact that the naked photo your kid “sexts” someone could potentially be shared with millions changes the ballgame.
An online health website called NHS Choices quotes the experience of a seventeen- year-old named James. He discovered that “someone saw a video message I had sent to a previous girlfriend, took a screenshot and posted it online. Lots of people I knew saw it and I was called a pervert. I was completely devastated and, to be honest, almost suicidal. I got the picture taken down eventually, but by that stage people had ‘unfriended’ me and the damage was done.”
Before you broach the subject with your child, it’s important to understand some basic facts:
Common Sense Education (a program of Common Sense Media) has written an extensive online handbook about sexting aimed at young adults. It covers all of the potential pitfalls of sending sexually explicit photos or videos. They make it clear that people in relationships sharing nude photos with each other is not a new thing. What’s changed is the speed with which a photo can go viral.
The handbook also has a list of questions they recommend teens ask themselves before deciding to text an intimate image:
Most importantly, keep the door for communication open by letting your child know that you are receptive to discussing the subject. You can say something like, “Sexting might feel like a normal thing to do, and a normal thing to ask someone else to do, and I realize that some of your friends are probably doing it. But I want you to know it’s a risk that can have serious consequences. So, if you find yourself in that situation, let’s talk about it.” Let them know that a relationship based on trust and respect, is not one where they should feel pressure to do something they don’t want to do.
For additional resources check out The Media Smarts website.