Have you heard of sexting? Basically, it’s “naught” talk through texts. Sometimes it includes pictures that you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see. It’s also incredibly popular among teenagers. According to the FBI, up to 31% of kids as young as middle-school age have engaged in sexting. Can sexting lead to bullying? Sadly, it sure can.
I’m a pretty open-minded person. I’ve never considered myself to be “prude” or anything like that. I get that texting has given couples a whole new way to be intimate when apart. Sending your spouse a little text about what to expect during alone time is one thing. Teenagers sending raunchy messages and naked pictures to each other, though, is a whole different ball game. Forget for a second about the fact that no parent wants to even think about their teenagers having sex, or thoughts of sex. Let’s even forget about the fact that it’s totally inappropriate. Instead, we’re all going to take a deep breath and try to think like teenagers, because that’s the only way you’re going to get through to them.
How Does Sexting Cause Bullying?
Before you approach your teen about sexting, you need a game plan to explain how it can also lead to bullying. See, I guarantee your teenager thinks she’s not doing anything wrong, or if she does think it’s wrong, she’s pretty sure you’re never going to catch her. The thing is, even if YOU don’t catch your teen sexting, chances are someone else will. Teens share everything.
If one girl sends a nude photo to her boyfriend and they break up, then that photo may very well end up being seen by everyone else in his group. This, in turns, leads to some of the most devastating bullying a teenage girl can face. As someone who has been on the receiving end of being called a not-so-family-friendly word for “promiscuous” in my high-school years, I can tell you that it wreaks havoc on your self-esteem.
All it takes is one click. One message, one photo, and your teenager could end up living a bullying nightmare.
What can you do to prevent your teen from sexting?
Obviously, you would rather your teen never even thought about sex at all, right? I mean, we all want our kids to stay innocent as long as possible. The first step in talking to your teen about sexting, though, is to get real. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it many times in the future I’m sure: living in denial and saying “my kids would never…” is a sure-fire way to completely miss a problem. I’m not saying you should assume your teen is up to no good, I’m just saying don’t be naive enough to think that it could never happen. Once you’ve faced reality, try these tips to prevent your teen from sexting:
- Set reasonable expectations of privacy. Teenagers want privacy, and in many ways I think they should have it. I don’t advocate reading diaries or other personal items that they keep in the home. Everyone needs a place to vent away from prying eyes. However, as a parent, you do have a right to see what your teens are texting. Before giving them a phone, let them know that you reserve the right to monitor their texts. Same with the internet. Remember, some smartphone apps can make bullying easier, so keep an eye out for them on their phones!
- Have a real conversation about it. Remember, a conversation involves more than one person. Talk WITH your teen, not at her. Don’t lecture about the dangers of sexting and assume you got through. Ask her if she knows anyone who does it (don’t make her mention names), how does she feel about it? Engage in conversation.
- Be sure to mention the bullying aspect. I know you don’t want your teen sexting simply because you feel it’s inappropriate. I totally agree with you there. But remember, think like a teen. Let her know that you’re not just concerned about her having sex at a young age and going through a teenage pregnancy. You’re also concerned about the fact that it can lead to bullying.
- Be open about your own experiences. If you have past experiences with things like this, don’t hide it from your kids. I tell my son and my friend’s daughters, “whatever it is you think you’re getting away with, believe me, I’ve done worse and I know EXACTLY what to look for.” I was everything that I don’t want my child to be when he becomes a teenager. I want him to learn from my mistakes. I know he will make his own, but I’d rather them not be the same exact ones that I made. The only way that is possible is if I am open. Kids have a way of finding things out. If you try to make it seem like you were an angel at their age, they’re going to think you’re a hypocrite when they do discover the truth.
The goal is to prevent your teen from sexting, not send them into hiding with it. Open, honest conversation is pretty much the only real way to accomplish this. Don’t think that if you just take away the phone, it’s going to stop it.
How would you prevent your teen from sexting and dealing with the bullying fallout of one wrong click?