Now that vacations, camps, and long school breaks are here for the summer, teens are often separated from their friends and crushes. The distance and time between them may increase the chances that our sons and daughters will be oversharing personal information and sexting. It is important to address sexting before it occurs, but far too often parents uncover sexts after the messages have been sent.
Catching our child in the act of sexting can be awkward and infuriating at the same time. Feelings of doubt, outrage, fear, and worry can cloud a parent’s judgment and emotional response. This intense burst of feelings can lead to heated arguments or yelling matches that accomplish little, except shutting down the communication line between parents and teens.
So how should a parent address their teen’s sexting?
Things Parents Should Avoid
Encountering a sexting child is gut wrenching, because parents understand the dangers this behavior exposes our sweet children too. Here are a four things parents should avoid when they catch a child sexting:
- yelling and screaming
- name calling
- ignoring the behavior
- blaming others
Caught In The Act: How To Handle Sexting Teens
After discovering a child’s sexts, you will want to initiate a heart-to-heart conversation. Intimate talks between parents and children are notorious for being awkward, but it is paramount that children get this information from adults and not their peers. Accurate information will prepare a teen to make sound judgment calls when it comes to future sexting.
After a parent has calmed down from the shock it is a great time to initiate a conversation. Things might be tense at first, but remaining cool and collected with help keep the conversation going. Acknowledge that this topic is difficult to talk about, but it is necessary.
Remember to listen to a child and respect what he or she has to say. Parents will not always agree with what teens are saying, but we need to hear them out. Experts recommend focusing on listening and asking children questions to help them elaborate on their ideas and feelings clearly. This will build trust and develop a precedent for future conversations.
Using the right words and questions will propel the discussion forward and strengthen the family bond. Using phrases like, “I understand what you are feeling, because I felt that way also when I was your age.”, “Please, tell me more.”, or “What I hear you saying is…” will help aid the conversation. As tempting as it is to lead the conversation and do all the talking, we need to remember to listen and ask them questions.
Things To Include In A Sexting Conversation
The sexting conversation should be guided by your teen, but be sure to include the following key points:
- Anything posted online or sent digitally has the potential to be recovered anytime. Stress the permanence of the Internet and social media apps while encouraging caution when it comes to posting something they wouldn’t want their grandmother to view.
- By sending sexts you give the recipient all the power in the relationship. If they become angry or upset, they might lash out by sharing your images to cause you pain.
- If your partner values you and your relationship, they will respect your choice to abstain from sexting. This is a very important message to stress, because 60% of all children who sext admit that they were pressured. Teens need to know that it is alright not to engage in a behavior they are uncomfortable with.
- Sexting has serious possible legal consequences. Many states prosecute sexters for distributing or possessing child pornography regardless if it was consensual.
How To Approach The Situation
Experts have been talking lately about how the act of sexting might be a normal part of development. They often compare it to “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours”. Even though sexting might fall under regular behaviors, the act of sexting can land a kid in circumstances that are far from normal.
Even though sexting only takes a second to snap or send a photo, the repercussions can last well into adulthood. Children who sext may face being charged with felony child pornographic charges, being registered as a sexual offender, and having the images accessible on social media for years to come. There is also a high probability that the images will be shared by peers which can lead to extreme cases of bullying or teasing.
Simply forbidding sexting will not work. Parents need to keep the momentum of the conversation moving forward and revisit the topic every now and then. We need to be honest about the seriousness of the issue and that their actions have caused mistrust. Meaningful conversations are a great tool, but it may be necessary to keep an eye on the teen’s cell phone, Internet activity, and social media as a deterrent for sexting behaviors. Working with our teens will help overcome this issue.
Contributor: Amy Williams, a journalist and former social worker passionate about parenting and education.
You can follow Amy on Twitter.