Teen Sexting, Part V: Giving Your Child the “Sext” Talk
Have you had the sex talk with your teen?
Chances are high that you have addressed sexual development with your teens and the inner workings of reproduction at some point in their lives. Educating our teens on their budding sexuality and curiosity is a rite of passage many parents endure. But did you feel the need to include sexting in your sex talk?
Despite the fact that many experts feel sexting is a normal part of a person’s sexual development, this new avenue for exploration can leave parents scratching their heads in confusion. To compound our fears, it is estimated that 40% of all high school students have sent or received a sext and 70% of teens admit to sexting with their boyfriend or girlfriend.
One apparent reason for the sexting trend appears to be how teens often rationalize sexting as a safe method for intimate bonding. A common misconception circulating among our children is that there are no threats like pregnancy or transmitting diseases associated with sexting. While this technically might be true, sexting has it’s own set of risks, and often exposes our sons and daughters to a variety of repercussions that can have a negative impact on their lives.
Over this past month, we’ve examined the sexting phenomenon and the impact it has on our teenagers. So far we’ve uncovered why teens sext and how social media factors into this type of sexual behavior. In our final installment of this series, we are going to discuss how families can approach having the “sext talk”.
When Do We Need To Have “The Sext Talk”?
It is hard enough to decide how to broach the topic of sex when our teens, but knowing when to approach this subject can be just as difficult, especially in the digital age. Our children’s connectivity and reliance on digital devices starts at a very young age. Often our young digital natives are scrolling and tapping touch screens before they are potty trained or can recite their ABC’s.
A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation noted that children between 8-18 logged close to 11 hours worth of media content into 7 ½ hours of media usage. That means while our kids are multitasking and navigating multi-screens like a boss, they’re also unwittingly exposing themselves to lurking dangers behind the screens and keypads.
Children need parents to approach the topic of online safety early in life and build on that foundation as a child ages. It is recommended for parents to begin teaching children social media etiquette long before they hit the teen years.
Children, at any age, need to understand that they are creating a digital footprint the minute they log onto social media. In the beginning, keep the dialogue focused on manners and age appropriateness.
After starting a conversation regarding the do’s and don’ts of the digital age, it will make it easier to approach the topic of sexting as a child matures. Similar to “the birds and the bees” talk, parents will need to be one step ahead of their son’s or daughter’s peers from spilling the juicy details. Don’t wait to have this conversation until it is too late!
In our interview with Dr. Christia Brown, an esteemed developmental psychologist, she spoke about the important conversations that parents need to have with their children. She added, “These conversations should happen as kids grow up. Not just at 14. It should happen when they’re six, seven, or eight.”
When a child is developmentally ready for the sex talk, usually right before the onslaught of puberty, you can initiate a more detailed dialogue about sexting, from introducing safe sexting and the harmful side effects related to posting x-rated pics.
“The Birds And The Bees”: Points To Include In The Dialogue
Sex talks can be uncomfortable for both tweens and parents, but enduring the brief awkward tension will ensure your tween or young teen will be getting accurate information.It’s important to be specific and honest when discussing sexting.
Thankfully, we have compiled a list of details to help this conversation go smoothly and accurately. Here are a few key points to include in the discussion:
- A sext lasts forever. Anything online has the potential to be saved, forwarded, and recovered years from now. Encourage them to be cautious and only post what they would feel comfortable with their grandparents or future children seeing.
- Never send intimate texts or sexts to people you do not personally know. In fact, teens should only interact with real friends and close family online.
- Sexting leaves you vulnerable to the whim of the recipient. After hitting the send button, you willingly give another person all of the power in the relationship.
- If you witness inappropriate sexting, someone sharing someone else’s sext, or bullying online— tell an adult!
- If a boy or girl really wants to connect with your teen on a deep level via texting, they will respect your wishes not to sext. 60% of all sexters have said that they’ve felt pressured to sext. Make sure your teen knows that they should never sext if they feel uncomfortable or do not want to do so. This will also help your teen know who really cares about them, and who they can trust.
- There are legal ramifications that can negatively impact lives for decades. Even if sexting is consensual, touch base on the definitions of child porn, sexual predators, and how being labeled a felon can hinder careers.
Most importantly, you want your teen to leave the conversation knowing 3 key things:
3 Ways To Keep The Conversation Going
Teens are notorious for pushing limits and doing the exact opposite of what their parents desire. This push to find their identity can lead them to rebel or explore their new freedoms. Simply put: telling a child not to sext won’t work. You can lay the groundwork for safe and responsible behavior by having the “sext talk” early, but as they get older, you need the revisit the conversation to make sure those lessons have stuck with them through the years.
Here are three ways to help keep the momentum of the sext conversation going:
- Use headlines and current events to talk about sexting, cyber safety, and healthy relationships.
- Monitor a child’s Internet and cell phone usage.
- Listen and try to avoid lecturing. Encourage your child to talk openly without judgment.
It’s difficult enough raising children without worrying about sexting or scary repercussions derailing their futures. Knowing the issues a child is dealing with will allow parents insight into their well being. Being involved will also allow teens a safe place to land or shoulder to cry on when they encounter adversity in life.
Keeping an ongoing conversation throughout childhood about sexting and maintaining a safe digital presence will allow us to be there every step of the way in our teens’ lives.