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Do your children really know better than to sext?

October 23, 2016

As caregivers, we do our best to instill values and morals in our children. We want our children to do the right thing even when we are not around to see their actions. We want them to make good decisions, but as the use of electronics and the number of apps available to them increases, making good decisions often clashes with what’s “trending.”

You’ve probably heard of or participated in “sexting.” There is really nothing wrong with it when it happens between two consenting adults. The problem is that sexting has become a common practice among teenagers. The average age is between the ages 13 and 16 years old. And it makes sense when you think about the many changes happening in their bodies and their curiosity to explore their sexuality. In case you’re among the few who have never heard of this, sexting can be defined as sending sexually explicit or suggestive photographs or messages via cell phone.

Take a look at the numbers

  • Twenty percent of teens (1 in 5) have “sexted” at least once.
  • 71 % of them, sent it to a boy/girlfriend.
  • 21 % of them, sent it someone they want to hook up with.
  • 15% of them, sent it to someone they did not even know in person but have met them online. 
(The percentages surpass 100% because some of the teens have “sexted” in more than one category.)

According to these statistics, the reasons children sext are:

  • 40% do it as a joke.
  • 34% do it to feel sexy.
  • 12% feel pressured to do it.

Very scary statistics. What’s scarier is that two of every five teenagers report that they tell their parents very little or nothing about what they do or where they go online. This is the biggest obstacle in helping children avoid such a risky behavior.

The best way to prevent sexting from your children is to develop and maintain a healthy relationship with them.

How you can keep your kids safe online

Sexting is very enticing because children nowadays base their worth on how many likes, shares and comments they get. Seductive or suggestive pictures tend to garner more “likes” or more attention than any other picture. Think about the number of “celebrities” who have become famous because of these types of pictures or videos. Sadly, it has become an epidemic and children are taking greater risks in creating, sending, posting and sharing these images. They do not think it’s a big deal because they assume it’s safe.

This is where involved parenting can really make a difference. It’s not enough to lecture them about safe and unsafe behavior. It’s not enough to take away their phones for a while. To make a difference as a caregiver, keep the following in mind:

Create and maintain a healthy environment.

The number one reason children begin and get caught up in sexting is growing up in unhealthy environments where there is constant chaos, substance use, or an emotionally absent caregiver. If children are raising themselves or raising other children, they will be more likely to engage in risky behaviors.

Talk but mostly listen.

Have regular conversations with your children. Use the car ride, waiting in line, waiting for your food at a restaurant, or any other time to chat about life. However, do not turn it into a lecture or compare how your life was when you were growing up. This creates distance and distance makes children feel misunderstood. Instead, listen to them and have them teach you about what’s trending, what new apps are being used, what other kids are doing at school, etc. This does not mean you’re trying to become their friend, it simply means that you’re building a bridge in order to increase your influence. 

Avoid thinking that your child will not do it.

Your child might be well-behaved, smart, and very open with you. However, as noted above, 12% (more than one in 10 children) are pressured into it. Often times, they feel very embarrassed and they are afraid to talk about this, especially with you since they do not want to disappoint you or they think they could get in trouble. Therefore, it’s better to realize that any child can sext, and have regular, open conversations about this. Let them know and reassure them that they can talk to you. It’s a good idea to come up with a code word they will use if they really need to talk to you as some may wait for the “right time” to talk to you if you’re very busy. This code word lets them know that something this important will take precedence over anything and that when they use it, you will listen non-judgmentally.

Check their phones periodically.

Having a phone seems to have become a necessity; however, it’s still a privilege. There are apps or programs you can download to your child’s cell phone to monitor messages sent and received without their knowledge. Keep in mind that you may eventually have to tell them how you “discovered” certain texts. I have parents who actually tell their children that they are being monitored and they have not reported any issues with this. Three very good programs are Highster Mobile (1-time fee), Auto Forward Spy (monthly fee), and Webwatcher (monthly fee). Look them up and see which one will work for what you need.

The best way to prevent sexting from your children is to develop and maintain a healthy relationship with them. Having this type of relationship will increase your chances of having influence on their choices, especially as they are growing up in a world that gravitates toward immediate gratification. It’s virtually impossible to keep up with everything your children are doing, even if you monitor their phones. Therefore, your best chances at minimizing any risky behaviors will be a strong bond with them.