While new technology allows tweens and teens to keep in regular contact with their peers and family members, the instant and often unbridled ability to connect, communicate, and share has fueled some teen risky behavior. One such risky behavior is “sexting," when mobile phone users, often teens and tweens, create and exchange provocative, nude, semi-nude (like a topless picture), or sexual images of themselves online by using their phone’s built-in digital camera, computer, or other connected device. This activity can have series psychological and legal consequences, so it is vital that parents communicate with their kids about this risky behavior.
Several national studies have been conducted over the past few years indicating that anywhere from 5-20% of teens are engaging in sexting. Regardless of the percentage, sexting can lead to serious repercussions. Police are currently investigating teens throughout the country for sending, receiving, and creating nude images of themselves and others, with consequences ranging from suspension to felony charges for the creation and distribution of child pornography.
- Talk with your kids about sexting. Kids want and need adult guidance. Set clear boundaries regarding appropriate and inappropriate internet and mobile use. Ask your kids what they know about sexting and if any of their friends have sent or received a sext message.
- Understand that there are serious legal consequences. Your child should never take or send a sexually suggestive image of themselves or anyone else. If they do, they could be charged for creating or distributing child pornography. If they keep any sext images of their peers, even if they did not take them, they could be charged with possession of child pornography.
- Talk to your kids about the emotional and peer-related consequences. Sext messages can be shared instantly through connected devices. More often than not, a sext does not remain with the intended recipient. These images can never be erased and can be archived, uploaded, copied and forwarded forever.
- Know who your child is communicating with online and through their mobile device.
- Consider placing limits on electronic communication. Check out the parental controls offered by your mobile provider. Many mobile carriers offer family plans that allow you to limit the amount and type of text messages your kids can send. Also disable attachments or picture texts on text messages to more comprehensively protect them from engaging in sexting.
- Measure your response. If you find that your child has received a sext message, consider going to the other parents involved before going to the local police. You want to protect your child, but be careful not to unnecessarily incriminate your child or one of their peers. If malice or criminal intent is involved, then it would be wise to consider consulting with an attorney, the police, or an expert.