Are your kids “sexting”? How to talk about it

Everybody has an opinion on teens and the use of digital communication and social media. Technology is truly changing the way kids interact with each other—and that can be challenging for parents in many ways.

It’s good, because it allows them to swiftly connect with their friends— or even their parents or other relatives. It’s not so good, because it swallows them up and prevents them from forging relationships the way we did it…in the way of past generations. It’s unfamiliar territory.

Courtesy State of Rhode Island, Office of the Attorney General

But on the topic of “sexting,” most parents agree: sending sexually explicit messages of themselves or others over cyberspace is a very bad idea.

In fact, depending on the type of material we’re talking about, and the location from where it was sent or received, participating in sexting can potentially violate child pornography laws.

Read more on Arizona’s “sexting” law, Senate Bill 1266, which took affect in July 2010, from the University of Arizona’s Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth and Families.

A new study to be published in the January 2012 issue of Pediatrics (online today) found that 2.5 percent of the youth surveyed participated in some form of sexting in the past year.

The subjects in the survey included 1,560 Internet users ages 10 through 17.  They were surveyed about their experiences with appearing in, creating, or receiving sexual images or videos.

Only one percent of those surveyed participated in sharing images that could potentially violate child pornography laws.

Most kids who participated in sexting said they did it as a prank, or while they were in a relationship. A significant number said that drug and alcohol abuse was a factor that influenced the behavior.

Why do kids “sext”? Read a fact sheet with information from the State of Rhode Island Attorney General’s office.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy reports that one in five teens say they have sent electronically or posted online nude or semi-nude photos or video of themselves.

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Campaign say that young people must be educated on the possible consequences of sexting.

How should parents talk to their kids?

Remind them to think of anything they post on social media as a “cyber tattoo,” a searchable something that will be around as they or their friends apply for college, jobs and navigate through life.

It’s a challenge for today’s kids, who are just beginning to develop impulse control, to stop for a moment and think. That’s why it’s crucial for parents to talk to their kids.

Once a user hits “send” –be it from a phone or a computer or other digital device– it effectively is up for grabs. Ask your child to think before hitting “send:” would I want my grandma, my teacher, my baby sister, to see this?

Read more recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics on how parents can talk to kids about sexting and their digital footprint, no matter how savvy parents are themselves are about today’s technology.

The State of Rhode Island also provides these useful tips on how to talk to kids about “sexting.”

Find general internet safety information for parents from the Arizona Attorney General’s office.

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