Sexting 101: What You Need to Know as a Parent
“My kid may be doing what?” Yes, Mom and Dad, the phenomenon of “Sexting” is taking off (no pun intended). If you don’t know what “Sexting” is, it involves people, mostly teens, taking nude pictures of themselves and sending them using their cell phones to others. This action has resulted in some teens being charged with violations of Child Pornography laws. These laws can carry some serious penalties, the most serious being registration on Sex Offenders databases for ten years. With this in mind, what would happen if the offending material was found on your personal computer?
Why is this happening and what do you need to be aware of to keep you and your kids safe?
So many kids in this generation have grown up in the age of reality shows, and so many of them will do almost anything for attention and to try to “fit in.” We have had Survivor, Fear Factor, Big Brother, and Jackass grace the screens of our television, movie theaters and internet for almost a decade, and the ability for children, tweens, and teens to see these can influence the way they look at society and themselves. Aren’t they just doing what they have been taught?
There is a de-sensitization to privacy, intimacy, and self-respect that is, in part a symptom of the media phenomena and our culture. When I can turn on the TV or the computer and see Jack Ass-type behaviors anywhere I turn, it sends that idea that doing the extreme can get me attention, and where there is attention, there may be acceptance and possibly love and belongingness, at any cost. And when I want to fit in and/or stand out in the crowd, taking a dare or doing the extreme will help me achieve that end. Sexting is a way to feel powerful, and in some ways I think it can inappropriately be viewed as personal P.R. in a competitive market for attention and even potential fame.
We seem to live in an extreme time, and what people used to feel was a “dare never to be done” is potentially becoming run-of-the-mill. Many kids have not lost their self-respect as much as they have maybe never learned how to find it. Searching for approval, acceptance, what they think is love and instant gratification is likely what the goal is.
The Buck Stops with You!
I do hold society’s attitudes, the media, and the internet partly responsible, but as a collective, parents need to take the time to both talk to their kids and listen, and be in a place to guide and teach. It is vital to get the heartbeat of your children’s attitudes and emotions and help them understand where their power, self-respect, honor, and dignity come from—inside of themselves. You are the most important model of this. In some ways, is this just a variation of streaking and “free-love” in the seventies? Are we all just looking outside of ourselves to find our identity, worth and value?
What can you do to decrease the chance of your child engaging in this dangerous activity?
- Be proactive. Plan years ahead and keep communication open. If you encourage and foster non-judgmental, reflective communication when they are young, it will encourage it as they grow.
- Teach problem-solving skills and be honest about your appraisal of your kids. Many parents live in denial of their kid’s behaviors until it is too late, because they either don’t want to think they have failed as parents or don’t want to see their kids as having problems.
- Talk to your kids about these types of activities and ask them their feelings about it. Ask them if they know any peers who may have been engaging in this and how do they view them. If they don’t want to give names, respect that.
- If your child has had a tendency to hide behaviors from you, request random searches of phone and computer data. While they may have an issue with this, if they have nothing to hide, they should understand that you are protecting them and you.
- Understand that while your child me be in denial, sexting is a behavior that communicates deeper issues and a lack of confidence and self-respect. Arrogance IS a protective emotion. Be careful not to shame or humiliate them. Help them to realize the dangers and deeper issues.
- Be willing to get help from a professional. Many times, you are too close to your kids to help them look at these issues and resolve them.