We’ve read about the statistics of young people sharing explicit images of themselves online, and how one report uncovered that some kids as young as 10 years old are exposed to sexting, but what parents need to understand is – right or wrong, sexting is considered a new normal for kids and teens today.
I can’t believe they sent that!
Just because it’s normal, doesn’t mean it’s right. How can we convey that message to our children today? These are the types of lessons we don’t want them to learn the hard way. Not only can they lead to legal consequences, but the emotional ramifications can be long-lasting too.
Teens can be cruel when it comes to taunting each other online, especially if there are nudes being circulated around. Images are quickly manipulated and passed around to humiliate someone – similar to generations earlier when notes were passed from desk to desk poking fun at a classmate. Back then it was isolated to the school, now – it’s viral and much worse because it can impact their future, especially when it comes to their online reputation.
Your teen’s intention of sending a sext message might be out of love, or they believe their friend won’t be sharing that image with others; but with technology it’s only a click away before it spreads throughout the entire school and the worldwide-web – as the public shaming begins. Becoming a target of digital shame at a young age can have severe health risks associated with it like depression and PTSD. And at the very worst, there are instances of teens taking their own lives after their nudes have gone viral.
Building digital resilience with sext education
As a parent and grandparent, I cringe when I think about safe sexting. In my mind, no sexting is the safest way to handle this issue – however the fact is, we must prepare and educate our kids on how to handle inappropriate content.
This isn’t about encouraging them to send sexual messages, it’s understanding that this is happening in our young people’s world. It’s no different than our parents giving us the sex talk, hoping we would choose abstinence – but also giving us safe sex alternatives.
Today our kids consider their digital life as important as their lives offline, so it’s imperative to give them as much knowledge to know they are not alone when they’re faced with big decisions that can affect their future as well as their emotional wellness.
5 Ways to safely handle sexual content
In a recent report, It’s Time To Teach Safe Sexting, the Cyberbullying Research Center understands teen sexting is a problem, but also admits according to their own studies, it’s not slowing down.
Let’s equip young people with tools to develop not only digital resilience but also how to address sext messages if they receive or engage in them.
1. If someone sends you a sext message, do not forward it or show it to anyone else. This could be considered non-consensual sharing of pornography, and there are laws prohibiting it. It could have serious penalties – especially if the image portrays a minor.
2. If you send a sext message, make sure you know and fully trust the recipient. As I mentioned above, online shaming can have long-lasting effects once an image goes viral. Your teen might believe they know and trust someone, but we must stress not everyone is who they seem – especially in the digital world. “Catfishing” is prevalent today. This is when someone sets up a fictitious profile or pretends to be someone else to lure you into a fake romantic relationship.
3. Do not send uninvited sexual content (sext messages). Sending unsolicited explicit images to others that didn’t ask for them could potentially lead to criminal charges.
4. Never show your face and make sure any features unique to you (tattoos, birthmarks, scars, etc) are not visible or identifiable. Social media sites now have sophisticated facial recognition algorithms that can automatically tag you in any pictures. You want to be sure you stay private.
5. Delete any explicit photos or video from your device swiftly. This applies to images you take of yourself and those that you have received from others. Having images stored on your device increases the likelihood that someone—a parent, the police, a hacker—will find them. Possessing nude images of minors may have criminal implications. In 2015, for example, a North Carolina teen was charged with possessing child pornography, although the image on his phone was of himself.
As with all tech-talks, they should be frequent and remind your child that no matter what is happening in their online life, you’re in their corner. If they are ever feeling uncomfortable, they should always be able to tell you about it – without judgment.
Our kids may always be more cyber-savvy than us, but they will always need our parenting wisdom.