Sorry, mamis, but a new study shows that a large number of teenage girls and boys are sexting on their iPhones. More than 80 percent of these teens are under the age of 18, 11 percent admit they’ve sent suggestive pictures to strangers and 12 percent of girls feel pressured to sext. Even more alarming, the results show that 38 percent of teen girls and 39 percent of teen boys say they have had sexually suggestive text messages or emails, originally meant for someone else, shared with them.
Whether planned, pressured or otherwise, it’s important for parents to be in the know and talking to their kids about what they’re sending (or receiving) on their screens. We talked to Titania Jordan, Chief Parenting Officer of Bark, an easy-to-use monitoring tool that parents can use to help protect their children online from the risks of cyber bullying, sexting, drug use and even depression and suicide. Ahead, she answers every question or concern you may have about your little ones sexting.
What are some obvious signs that your child might be sexting?
While not always obvious, here are a few telling signs that you need to have a conversation with your teen or tween about what is going on in their digital life:
1. Your child hides his or her phone/screen when you come nearby. 2. Your child isn’t willing to hand over their phones when asked. 3. Your child exhibits behaviors of secrecy, like using their phone in the bathroom. 4. Your child seems agitated after using their phone or when getting notifications.
What are some less obvious ways to detect or inquire if your child might be sexting?
The most impactful way to have this difficult conversation with your teen or tween is to make sure you have an open and honest line of communication with them. This is not a one-time conversation but, instead, an ongoing dialogue. A few ways to detect or inquire about sexting: check for vault apps and hidden folders on your child’s phone. For more information on vault apps and hidden folders, check out our article, Are You Teens Using Hidden Apps. Ask if they are using apps like Kik, Snapchat and WhatsApp. While many of these apps are used harmlessly for fun conversations between friends, they are also often used for sexting. It is important to discuss with your children what kinds of apps they are using, and what types of conversations they see on those apps.
What are first steps to take after discovering they’re sexting?
First, take a deep breath. You are not alone. Next, here are a few steps: If your child willingly took or received suggestive photos, check to see if your child shared them and if there is no legal issues and delete the photos. If they have recieved unwanted sexual advances, sextortion or shared images with an adult, report to law enforcement. Check into the laws of your state, as it is illegal in many states for adults to engage in sexual content with an underage child even if it is not an explicit exchange of photos.
Remind them of the consequences (permanency) of underage sexting and talk about peer pressure. While some states have "Romeo and Juliet" exceptions to general child pornography, many of them do not. This means that if a child sends or receives and keeps explicit material of underage peers, they can be charged with child pornography laws that may come with heavy penalties. This will impact them and their future career and families for life.
Should parents ban it completely from their kids? What’s the responsible, informative way to talk to your kids about this topic?
In this day and age, you cannot talk enough with your children about technology and its impact on their daily and future lives. Here are a few tips: Ask Questions. Find out their thinking process. Do they know what sexting means? If so, ask what they think about it and why people do it. Do they feel peer pressure to engage in the behavior or is it part of what they think is expected of a romantic relationship? Express Consequences. Explain the legal and reputational consequences that can occur. Remind them it is extremely easy for these images to get out of their control and can have impact on their adult lives (college admissions and job searches). When children under the age of 18 are involved, child pornography and sexual exploitation laws are easily broken. Discuss consent. Talk about consent and trust in healthy relationships and remind them not to forward explicit messages that they see or receive, but to report them to a trusted adult who can help them understand how to handle the issue and contact the appropriate people.
What are preventative measures parents can take to stop sexting?
While you can’t protect your children from every mistake they will ever make, you can do these three things to help prevent sexting before it starts. Proactive Approach. Take a proactive approach and start discussing the ramifications of sexting with your children before it starts, using age-appropriate language. Ongoing Communication. Assure your child that they can come to you with questions, concerns and any uncomfortable text or images they receive at any time. You’re there to help them navigate online issues and can be trusted to support them with their concerns. It’s important to underscore that you’re on their side and together you’ll find a solution on how to deal with it. Provide Resources: Come up with some ready-to-use comebacks or use sites like Send This Instead for humorous and empowering response messages to requests for explicit photos or messages.