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Teen sexting - What parents can do

Abbi Perets lives in Houston, TX, with her husband and five children.






Sexual text messages

Is your teen sending sexual text messages? Just when you thought you couldn't possibly worry about one more thing, along comes teen "sexting"-- sending provocative material such as nude pictures of yourself via text messages. Is your child already doing it? And what can you do about it?

Teen Girl Texting

Maybe you heard the news hoopla over sexting in the last few weeks. And maybe you listened, nodded, and remarked to your spouse that the world is getting crazier every day. Maybe you fleetingly wondered if your own teen could be involved, but you probably dismissed the thought pretty quickly. I mean, you'd know if something like that was going on, wouldn't you?

 

According to Dr. Susan Lipkins, a New York psychologist and expert in sexual bullying, 65% of teens aged 13-19 are sexting, and enjoying it. And if that doesn't make you cringe already, Dr. Lipkins also believes that even more sexting is going on in the 12-year-old set. In fact, 6% of those polled said they started sexting at just 9 years old.

 

Is your teen involved?

If your teen has a cell phone, she's undoubtedly texting. And if she's texting, she may well be sexting. And you'd probably never know it, as savvy as you think you might be. Remember, our kids don't remember life before the Internet. They were born with cell phones in their hands and IM handles on their birth certificates. They live and breathe this stuff, and they are good at hiding their tracks.

 

The reality is that the numbers are simply not on your side. And no matter how convinced you are that your child could never do something like that, you have to allow for the possibility that you're wrong. Which means you have to have a difficult conversation with your teen. The one that starts with, "Have you ever sent or received naked pictures?"

 

Your child will undoubtedly assert that he has not, that he is insulted at the mere suggestion, that you are insane, and also totally uncool. Are you good at knowing when your child is lying? Use your skills, your gut, and any other tools in your arsenal.

 

What now?

So what are you supposed to do, whether you think your teen is sexting already or whether you're worried he might start in the future? Believe it or not, you're not completely powerless. So what can you do?


1.    Talk to your teen. A scary thought for many of us, but one of those unavoidable responsibilities of parenting. Talk to them about the possible long-term consequences of getting involved in sexting. Like the fact that nude images of kids under age 18 are child pornography, which is illegal. Talk about the short-term consequences, like the whole school getting ahold of a "private" photo shared with a former boy or girlfriend. Talk about self esteem and self respect.
2.    Set rules. Do you let your kids drive drunk? Do you let them ride in the car with no seat belts? So why give them something as dangerous as a cell phone and not establish rules? Start random checks of the phone (yes, you'll need to learn how to use it), and go through everything on it regularly.

3.    Take away the cell phone. Drastic, yes, but sometimes necessary, when nothing else is working. If you truly don't trust your child, why would you trust him with a tool he can use to bully others? And to those who argue that their kids "need" cell phones -- oh, come on now. Really? Fine. Then get them the most basic model possible, with no texting capabilities.
Parenting a teenager in today's world is not an easy task. But SheKnows is here with you, every step of the way. Talk to other parents in our forums, and let us know how your "sext" talk goes with your teen right here in the comments.

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