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Talking to teens about sexting

Laura Willard is a law school grad who has successfully avoided using her education for eight years and counting. She's a wife and an adoptive mom to two kids. Motherhood is the best job she never knew she wanted so much until she had it...

Is your child sexting?

Sexting. If you are a parent of an older elementary school student, tween or teen and you haven’t heard this term or don’t really know what it means, it's time to educate yourself. Sexting is sending suggestive or explicit texts, photos or videos via cell phone or instant messaging. Why is it important? It’s quite possible that your child has sent a sext, received a sext, seen someone else’s sext or at least heard about someone doing it. Unfortunately, this use of technology — one that can have serious consequences — is not going away. These guidelines can help parents deal with the issue.

How do you stop it if it's too late to prevent it?

So what do you do if you learn your teen has already been involved in sexting? The answer depends on how you choose to parent your child.

Wiseman says it's important to follow through with your earlier rules and consequences. If you told your child that under no circumstances should she be involved in this, do what you said you'd do, whether it's taking away technology — computer and phone -- extra chores, grounding her, etc. Your child needs to know this is a serious matter, and the consequences are serious, too.

Austin focuses on education. Keep C.O.A.L. in mind and talk to your child with an open mind and open attitude.

"Find a way to teach your children how dangerous this can be," she says. "We always tell our children how dangerous life can be when they get in a car, yet they still have accidents because they don't always do what we ask of them. Part of being a teen is taking risks." Do everything you can to help your child understand these risks, Austin advises, so she will make better decisions in the future.

Do something!

No matter how you decide to handle it, don't wish it will resolve itself on its own -- this is not one of those minor teen issues that will just go away. Sexting is serious and so are the consequences. As parents, it is our job to protect our teens.

Both Wiseman and Jenn like to use a driving analogy. We don't just hand our teens the keys to the car one day and tell them, "Go for it!" We make sure they learn how to drive, that they get their license and drive under our supervision. Only when we're confident that they have not only the skills but an adequate understanding of what it means to control a motor vehicle do we allow them to get behind the wheel on their own.

Treat technology the same way. Don't just hand your teen a cell phone and hope for the best. Be proactive and be involved. Be the parent!

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