Sexting: What parents need to know

Online safety of teens and kids of all ages is a priority as well as cell phone safety.  This brings us to a very hot topic which a guest writer has asked me to post his recent article to help parents understand how important it is to understand what sexting is and how they can take steps to help keep their children safe virtually.

Sexting has become a recent trend with mobile users, as nearly 40% of teens reporting sexting at least once or consistently. Sexting is when one person sends a nude, or sexually suggestive picture/text of themselves to another person or a group. The consequences of sexting range from nothing, to serious. For parents, the worries are real and dangerous.

Child Pornography

The primary concern for parents is sexting that involves suggestive photos, especially nudes. Several teens have been charged with ownership of child pornography. That’s because even if two students under age 18 are dating, possession of nude photos of individuals under the age of 18 constitutes child pornography. In some cases, teens who have snapped pictures of themselves have been charged with “manufacturing, disseminating or possessing child pornography.” Those receiving the pictures have faced, and been sentenced, to charges of possession. Convictions lead to life-long registration on sexual offender lists.

Digital World

Once the pictures have been taken, parents have more issues to worry about, namely digital records. After pictures have been taken digitally, they immediately enter a digital world where they can become permanent. One person can send the picture to another and so on until it’s been shared across the digital world. It can all start with one phone. With chat rooms and other websites, it’s easy for pedophiles and other predators to misrepresent age, sex, and location. Teens and kids are constantly connected to the web. Not only can those pictures make their way to illegal websites, they can also make their way to strangers.

Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, and other social media sites are like online directories for everyone and anyone. It can be easy anyone to assume a false identity. With a couple clicks on the phone, a picture gets into the hands of the wrong person.

Psychological Factors

There are many reasons why teens take part in sexting and most of them are a new take on the old world of flirting and courting. Many teens send the texts as flirtatious messages, to boost popularity, or because of peer pressure. They can also include forms of sexual harassment, or bullying.

The ramifications for of this are undocumented in terms of sexting, but the potential psychological issues of self-esteem are wide and concerning. Adolescents and teens are entering a stage of life where body-image and self-esteem are developing. Bullying, harassment, and derogatory comments can degrade and damage morale. The effects of this can last for years or decades.

By sexting, teens put their bodies out there to be judged and critiqued. While their bodies may be healthy, teens use any chances to tease or insult another, especially if it means a chance to elevate themselves in a social clique, or in popularity. The self-esteem issues created by pictures, or suggestive language, being misconstrued, getting into unwanted hands or from unwarranted comments, can devastate teens and lead to suicide.

Cautionary Steps

Beyond eliminating and forbidding the use of all digital devices, there are other measures that parents can take to protect their teens.

The first is establishing a good relationship. Studies consistently show that parents who foster good relationships with their children have more influence on them than the media or peer pressure.

A strong relationship makes it easier for parents to approach kids about sexting and its consequences. Being honest with children about the potential legal consequences, psychological factors, and personal ethics and morals behind sexting is a good way to help them understand its seriousness.

To instill that seriousness, parents should monitor their child’s activities and friends. Much of sexting in teenagers is caused by peer pressure or social interactions. Supporting them in making the right decisions, and spending less time from those who are sexting, may be the best way to keep them safe.

Special contributor:  Steven Farrell is the administrator of ReversePhoneLookup.org, the best reverse phone directory online.

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