Teens find their ways to find trouble. And these days, they're finding lots of trouble with technology, as they try to manage friendships, relationships, and their social behavior in public and online and via electronics, which complicates the already confusing years that teenagers start to discover—and, ahem, assert—their independence.
There are good, clear ways to reach them and teach them, to help them learn about boundaries and respect and honoring people's words. And then there's the wrong way to teach them. Such as what Eugene Foster, 31, of Arizona did to teach his girlfriend's daughter "a lesson" about sexting: He texted a nude photo of the daughter that he found on her phone to her entire list of contacts. To "teach her a lesson"?! By humiliating her in front of her peers, and forcing her to experience the worst-case scenario? Not even of her own doing?
The mind boggles.
But Foster will face the consequences for his lack of judgment—not least because circulating nude photographs of minors is illegal (whether it's considered circulating pornography or sexually exploiting a minor, the end result isn't good). The question that remains is: How do we get our children to show good judgment in these issues? The answer is both simple and complicated: We talk to them. Yes, we have to talk to teens at exactly the age they often want to stop talking to us. But it can be done. Follow these cues and use these facts to start the conversation with your child about electronics and the choices they need to make—and the consequences they need to be aware of.
"You should never share anything electronically that you wouldn't share onstage in your high school auditorium."Talk to your child about an idea called "amplification," a big word that brings to mind a bullhorn, and remind them that any piece of electronic communication—a Facebook wall post, an innocently flirtatious text, a tongue-in-cheek insult—can be turned into a embarrassment or community pile-on with just a click of the button (such as "reply all" or "forward" or "share"). And even without those accidental events, the truth is this: if you wouldn't say the comment in person? Then you shouldn't say it at all. Remind your kids that electronics may have changed how we communicate, but the end results of our communications are still very much the same.
"As far as racy photos go, fact is, statistics say your chance of keeping that photo private isn't good."MTV did a huge research study to get to the bottom of what they call "digital disrespect." And here's a percentage to remember: 1 in 5 people who received a text forwarded it to someone else. Tell your teen that you understand the urge, that it seems fun, that you know they trust their boyfriend or girlfriend and so forth. Acknowledge that this is how they feel. Then cite the above statistic and remind your kids that some secrets are too good too keep—and that they don't want their compromising photo to be one of them.
You can be harrassed—or harrass somebody, just by texting. Almost a quarter of teenagers (also from MTV's study) admit that they have felt harassed by a friend or partner who repeatedly sent texts. Constant texting is communication with blurry edges: when does enthusiasm turn into stalking? When does checking up on someone turn into monitoring—a habit that is officially acknowledged as the first stage in an abusive relationship? Teach your child to know that if it feels wrong, it probably is, and that they have the right to set boundaries about how often to be contacted. And if that person can't respect those boundaries, then it is probably time to change the relationship. On the other hand, also remind them to keep their own emotions and desires in check, as well, and that it's not acceptable to demand 24-hour updates. Textual harassment is an activity that girls enact at almost the same level as boys. And this is not an equality we like.
Use the story of how Eugene Foster tried to teach a teenager in his life a lesson as a way to open the conversation. And then your kids will be grateful that you just decided to talk to them about it, instead.
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