If you were to ask 100 parents of teenagers, whether they believed their teen had ever been involved in sexting someone, you would probably get 100 no’s. The sad fact is approximately 39% of teens have been involved in sending a sexually explicit text (sext) or ‘selfie’ showing themselves in a semi-nude or nude state. Most of these texts or pictures were intended for one person, but usually end up being shared among friends and even strangers.
What would make a teen decide to sext someone? The answers may vary, but some common responses that were given: peer pressure from their boyfriend/girlfriend, ‘everyone’ is doing it and they want to appear cool to their friends. Some teenagers believe that the person they are sharing the sext or picture with is the ‘love of their life’ and would never share it with anyone.
Many parents mistakenly believe that they have all of the bases covered, by becoming their child’s Facebook friend or when they follow them on Instagram. They are very vigilant about checking their status and posts, and therefore get lulled into a false sense of security about their child’s online activities. Parents should also be aware of the many other social media sites that kids are using, and check to see if their child has an account elsewhere. Some of the more popular sites currently being used by teens and young adults are Kik, Vine, Whatsapp, Tumblr, Keek, Twitter, Secret and Whisper. A few of the apps make it possible for teenagers to message each other, and it instantly erases leaving no digital footprint for Mom or Dad to find. Parents also need to keep up to date on the latest teenager slang being used to hide their activities.
Please understand that sexting is not harmless and can have lasting repercussions. For instance, your daughter sent a nude selfie to her boyfriend and after they broke up, he sent it to all of his buddies. Or a child predator sets up a fake account posing as a teenage girl and convinces several male students from the local high school to send nude selfies. The predator then blackmails the boys into having sex with him in various places, under the threat of exposing the nude pictures to their friends, school and family. These are true scenarios that have happened to unsuspecting teenagers in the past and continue to happen. Some victims of sexting never recover and have committed suicide or attempted suicide, rather than face the shame of being exposed publicly.
Another potentially devastating consequence, of sexting or nude selfies, is often not felt until graduation time or shortly after a teen has graduated. Teenagers have to realize that many colleges and employers are doing background searches that include looking at a person’s social media accounts. Many students could potentially lose out on a great college scholarship due to indiscriminate postings. And many employers look at social media postings as a reflection of one’s character and may decide to pass on an applicant based on inappropriate posts.
All parents should have frank conversations with their teens about sexting and sending inappropriate selfies. If a child indicates that they feel pressured from their peers sometimes to go along with things, parents should install the app Send This Instead on their phones. This app allows the child to send humorous pictures to say no to things they don’t want to do and still seem cool. Another great website parents should check out is Cyberwise. This website teaches parents and kids how to be better digital citizens when using the internet and smartphones.
Remember teens – “Having TOO much fun – may cause your whole world to come undone!”