Sexting and how to talk to your kids about online safety

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Sexting and how to talk to your kids about online safetyAs parents struggle to grapple with the idea of ‘sexting’ and sending sexually explicit material across the internet, one in four teens is doing it.

Teenagers are naturally curious creatures and likely to explore their sexuality in ways parents could never have dreamed of before the digital age. In a recent study published in Pediatrics, researchers at the University of Southern California found that teens that send “sexts” are seven times more likely to be sexually active and engage in risky behaviour.

The study also found:

  • 15% of teens with access to a cell phone had sexted.
  • 54% of teens know of someone who has sexted and are 17 times more likely to engage in sexting behaviour.

After reading such statistics, you may want to take away your child’s cell phone; however, the solution recommended by today’s experts is for parents to educate their kids about the risks involved in these types of actions and behaviours.

Susan Lipkins, a psychologist specializing in bullying and hazing, has done some extensive research on this sexting phenomenon and says:

“It’s an abrupt change that’s uncomfortable and scary to adults, but it’s really an expression of the kinds of sexual behavior they’re having. Many girls are not looking for a relationship: they’re looking for experience and looking for freedom. Sexting is just a reflection of what’s actually going on.”

But new experiences and freedom can have detrimental consequences as in the case of 15-year-old Julia Kirouac from Oakville, Ontario, whose boyfriend decided to share her nude images with hundreds of kids at school. These images got into the hands of his new girlfriend, who posted them on Facebook. Within hours, the images went viral and spread to four different schools in the area.

The shame, bullying and harassment were enough for Julie to attempt suicide:

“They’d call me a slut, a whore, nice boobs on Facebook,” said Julia. “I was humiliated and the trust I had for someone was completely shattered…. It was almost a feeling of being raped.”

The bullying got so bad that in the end Julia had to change schools.

Sexting is another form of cyberbulling and though lawmakers are reluctant to convict these minors, others have not been so fortunate. Sending and receiving images of naked and semi-naked pictures of minors is considered child pornography and subject to severe consequences such as a minimum of one year in jail and being listed on the registry of sex offenders.

What can you do as a parent to educate your child about sexting?

Parents need to approach this situation delicately, but approach it early. It’s important to keep the lines of communication open so you are privy to what’s going on in your child’s life. You can open the conversation by talking about Julie Kirouac’s experience and emphasize that sharing anything via the internet is the same as sharing it with the world. Ultimately, the best way for parents to keep their kids safe is to talk to them openly about responsibility and risk.

Tips to educate your kids about sexting and online safety

  • Know who your teen is hanging out with online and offline.
  • Educate them about the consequences of their actions and teach them to always think twice before pressing the send button.
  • Provide examples to help them understand the long-term consequences of creating and distributing illicit material.
  • Instruct them to delete all nude images they have received and tell the sender to stop immediately, because in the eyes of the law, the receiver is also implicated and at risk.
  • Teach your teen not to respond impulsively to anything online or via text. Discuss the use of filtering text as it can help prevent an impulsive response.
  • Highlight the fact that once these pictures are out in the world they remain there forever and it is impossible to control who sees them or how widely they are distributed.
  • Encourage your child to talk to their friends about what they have learned.

For tips, tools and support on how to best communicate with your teen, visit us at workhealthlife.com.

With original material from Celeste Sinclaire, full-time counsellor in Edmonton.

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