It’s tough to keep kids safe today. Here at the Sheriff’s Office, in addition to our regular patrols, we have programs, and often Deputies in the schools, but what about when they’re not in school? Kids tend to think of themselves as invincible, so it makes it difficult to convince them of the dangers of things like Facebook, Instagram, and Snap Chat. More and more, we see cases of what’s called “sexting.”
I’m not referring to just sending dirty talk; I’m talking about sending provocative selfies that include variations from simply inappropriate pictures of themselves in their underwear to pictures of themselves completely nude.
Surveys on sexting have found that among kids in their upper teens, about a third have sexted, so while the practice is neither universal, or terribly rare, it is common enough in teenager’s lives to be familiar. A study of seven public high schools in East Texas, for example, found that 28 percent of sophomores and juniors had sent a naked picture of themselves by text or e-mail, and 31 percent had asked someone to send one. (Rosen)
Although there are conflicting opinions about whether sexting is more likely in teens who admitted to substance abuse and high risk behavior than among other teens, Amy Hasinoff, author of Sexting Panic: Rethinking Criminalization, Privacy, and Consent, points out that, “Sexting is a form of sexual activity,” not a gateway to it. In addition, kids are often fooled by adults pretending to be teens just to get their pictures.
Social media has been cited as a window into the teenage world. If your sole response is to increase the restrictions, you could be missing a chance to know what’s actually going on with your child, to know things that in previous eras would have stayed hidden. For example, don’t shut down accounts. Kids will just find ways to open new ones under names that have nothing to do with their real ones, names that you can never track, or they will migrate to new platforms. Instead, ask questions, no matter how difficult it might be. Kids sext for many reasons, and unless you ask, you won’t know whether the one that was in their head at the time was normal adolescent experimentation or something else, and you won’t know for sure who they are sexting with unless you talk to them.
Advice for parents
1. Don’t wait for an incident to happen to your child or your child’s friend before you talk about the consequences of sexting. It’s better to have the talk before something happens.
2. Remind your kids that once an image is sent, they lose control of it. Regardless of what is “supposed” to happen to the picture, they have no way of knowing whether that happens or not. For example, pictures on SnapChat are supposed to disappear, but a simple screen shot allows the recipient to keep the picture as long as they like.
3. Ask how they would feel if their teachers, parents, or the entire school saw the picture, because that happens all the time.
4. Talk about pressures to send revealing photos. Let teens know that you understand the pressure and that no matter how much social pressure there is, the potential social humiliation can be hundreds of times worse.
5. Teach your children that the buck stops with them. If someone sends them a photo, they should delete it immediately. It’s better to be part of the solution than the problem. Besides, if they do send it on, they’re distributing pornography – and that’s against the law.
6. Check out www.ThatsNotCool.com