Study: Kids as young as 10 are being exposed to sexting.

When to give your child a cellphone has been a big question for years. There really isn’t any right answer, as it really depends on your child’s level of maturity and responsibility. What we do know is according to a PEW Research survey, 95 percent of teens have access to a smartphone and almost half of them, (45 percent) say they’re online constantly.

Sexting: It could be your child

Don’t be a parent in denial when it comes to technology. Whether they are sending or receiving sexual content, talking offline to your child about online safety and security is imperative. We don’t give our teen key’s to a car without teaching them to drive one – let’s not hand them a smartphone without the same precautions.

By the age of 10, nearly 15 percent of children who own a smartphone will be exposed to sexting according to a recent report titled Sexting and Minors. As you child reaches 13 years old, the statistics go up, with over 36 percent now experiencing sexting.

Sexting and Minors report also shared that sexting was mostly mutual. Between the ages of 10 and 17, nearly 60 percent of all sexting involves interactions where both parties were involved. Although request for sexual pictures or videos reach their height in mid-adolescence, 24 percent of children that own smartphones also take part in these discussions.

Girls verses boys

First we should treat boys and girls equally on this topic, since the risks and consequences can be the same.  However by the age of 8, over 15 percent of girls who smartphones were exposed to sexting in some fashion. Boys’ sexting peaks at age 14, while girls’ sexting remains high consistently through their teenage years according to this latest report.

Being a proactive parent

Most people know offline conversations are key to online safety, but they are not always easy to get started.

Why do kids send nudes?

Reality is, they believe this is normal and everyone is doing it! What they don’t understand is the risks or real-life consequences that can be attached to it. This is where your offline chats are needed to help them realize the long-term costs:

Legal ramifications depending on where you live.

-Online reputation that can cost them their future college admissions or potential employment.

-Emotional distress that can have long-lasting mental health issues into adulthood from humiliation or embarrassment.

In a recent Parentology article, founder of the Institute of Responsible Cellphone Communication (IROC2), Richard Guerry shared his thoughts about young people when they share without thinking;

“At some point, should they wish to go to college, get a job, join politics or whatever their future holds – these [now] kids will be interacting with many people who don’t see sending nudes as normal.”

The ‘sext’ talk

It’s a parent’s responsibility to empower their children with the knowledge to make good choices about how to use all forms of technology and social media. But how can parents approach “sext education”?

• Start talking: When your kids hear news of sext crime cases or blunders online (especially when they involve adults too) initiate a conversation. Talk about how sexting leads to negative consequences even for adults.

• Just do it: You may not get a perfect time to break the ice, but don’t wait for an incident to happen. Be proactive and use the recent Sexting and Minors report to open the lines of communication.

• Make it real: Kids don’t always realize that what they do online is “real-life.” Ask them to consider how they would feel if their teacher or grandparent saw a provocative comment or picture. Remind them there’s no rewind online and no true delete button in the digital world. Comments and photos are not retrievable.

• Address peer pressure: Teach your kids to be self-confident and take pride in their individuality – but more importantly – social media doesn’t define them. ‘Am I pretty enough?’ is a burning question for many young girls today. It takes just a few keystrokes to help them feel good about themselves — or exponentially worse. Acknowledge that social pressure to participate in sexting can be strong. But remind kids that public humiliation stemming from it can be a million times worse.

• Give them control: If kids receive unwanted sexually-charged messages or pictures, they should know what to do next: Be the solution. They should tell you or another trusted adult, and never forward or share those messages with friends.

Order Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate, helping teens choose kindness in a world of incivility. This book is one you can read and discuss together promoting online safety and making better digital decisions.