Quick! Do you know where your teens are, let alone whether they’re “sexting” their fingers off? (So, for the parents not already in the know, what is sexting? Sexting is sending sexually explicit texts, photos, or videos on a cell phone to flirt, to date or hook up, or for the thrill of it.) While many teens do it -- one survey says 20 percent -- kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) are more prone to sext, because of their impulsivity and delayed brain development. High levels of hormones further fuel their desire to send racy images and messages.
Stay Calm -- Even If You’re Not
Your first instinct might be to snatch your teen’s phone while she’s in the shower, and place it in a locked box -- or to cancel your wireless plan. Don’t. This will probably backfire. Overreacting will cause her or him to overreact. Chances are, your teen will get angry and will go to any length to restore any digital privileges. Remember that punishing behaviors that she or he can’t control will create resentment between parent and child.
The best approach, say experts, is to watch your child’s back and give reminders of the consequences of sexting.
Talk About the Technology
Have the talk. Take a nonjudgmental and informational approach. Keep the dialogue open, and leave room for your kids to talk with you. Remember that the word sexting was coined by the press. Kids may have a different name for it. Try some simple starters to break the ice: “Have you heard about this sexting thing? Do you know anything about it?” Or “Can we talk about the things you and your friends share via cell phones or online? I want to make sure you’re looking out for yourself and your friends, as well.”
Calmly state the facts. If your teen is under 18, sending or receiving sexually explicit photos or video is considered child pornography under federal law. If convicted, she could be looking at jail time, and you could be sued by the parents of the child receiving such images.
Explain that digital is forever. Remind your teen that, once digital images and sex texts are out there, even if sent privately to a girlfriend or boyfriend, there is a digital footprint online. You can’t take them back.
Ask Questions, Demand Answers
Ask them to think before they send. Teens who sext don’t think about what this means to others about them, or what people may think of them. Some kids misread what other kids find acceptable. In teen culture, one incident can ruin a reputation or self esteem. Because cell phones make it easy to act on impulse, it takes only a moment of bad behavior, and another moment of bad judgment, before everyone in school knows about it.
Ask your teen to show you her privacy settings. Explain that the more private the settings, the less likely she is to receive, or unknowingly share, inappropriate material.
Be proactive in school. Make sure that your school district has zero-tolerance policies regarding camera-equipped phones in school bathrooms and locker rooms. Tell your teen that he should let you know if he sees friends using such phones.
Make the call. If your teen refuses to stop sexting, call your wireless carrier to block photos on her line.
This article appears in the Winter issue of ADDitude.
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