I used to wonder how I could bring up awkward subjects with my children, and as far as those go, sexting is pretty high on the list. At the time they start doing this, kids already understand the basic concepts of sex. In fact, a lot of them consider themselves to be experts who need no further information or instruction from mom and dad because they already “get it”.
DoSomething.org has reported that about 40% of all teens have sent sexts, and these numbers are weighted heavily by age – the older a teen is, the more likely they are to engage in sexting at some point. Given all of this, it’s clear that you need to talk with your child about sexting. Here’s how to do it.
Start with a strong opening
Tell your child to put their cell phone down, then say flat-out that you want to talk with them about sexting. Start by asking them how much they know about it – teens are often uncomfortable when put on the spot, but you really do need to know how familiar with the subject they are. If they ask why you want to know, just tell them that people have killed themselves after sexting and you want to make sure they’ll be safe.
Be honest, and avoid judging
Regardless of your personal feelings, you should try to avoid saying that sexting is wrong. If your teen has already sexted – or even just favorably considered the idea – they’re probably going to interpret that statement as a reflection on them. “Sexting is bad” becomes “You don’t trust me”, and few things will make a teen stop listening faster than the idea that you’re still treating them like a child.
Instead, focus on the safety aspect of it, starting with the statistics cited at DoSomething.org (through the first link above). Once both of you are on the same page, it’s time to address the problems with it. There are three particularly important issues to address.
1. Sexts are effectively child pornography
Most teens don’t think of it this way, but it’s true. If they share a sext with someone else, even if it was just passed to them, they are actively involved in the spread of child pornography and could get into legal trouble as a result.
2. You have no control of messages or pictures once they’re sent to someone else
No matter how much your child likes their current date, that relationship probably isn’t going to last… and people have been known to use sexts for revenge pornography. Once something is out on the internet, it’s almost impossible to stop it, and a significant number of sexts end up shared.
3. Many people, of both genders, are pressured into sexting
Dates may use phrases like “prove that you love me” or “I really want to see you” in order to pressure teens into sending sexts. However, teens should think carefully about whether or not they want to be in a relationship with someone who pushes them into something they’re not comfortable with.
This is not exclusive to girls. Boys can be pressured into sexting, too – and that kind of pressure is wrong no matter who is on the receiving end.
Keep the emphasis on their safety
Your goal shouldn’t be to stop sexting, per se – many people (including quite a few adults) think of it as a normal, healthy way of expressing their sexuality. However, you should try to keep your child safe, and that’s where the focus of the conversation should be. If you need additional help, you can look into tech safety and keeping a closer eye on what they’re doing – most teens don’t like being monitored, but if they know you’ll find out about their sexts anyway, they’re more likely to talk to you when they’re worried… especially if they know you’ll be sympathetic and help them, rather than threatening to take their phone away.
Talking about sexting isn’t easy, but it is important. Of course, every family is different, so don’t be afraid to change parts of the conversation to better fit your own family’s values and the personality of your child. Don’t wait too long to start, either – the sooner they understand the topic, the safer they’ll be.
Hillary Smith is a freelance journalist who specialized in telecommunications. As a graduate of NorthWestern’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism, she’s combines her love of technology, gadgets, and bulldogs with a career in freelance writing to make the world a more enlightened place.