Talking to Teens About Sexting

Top mom blogger shares tips for talk to teens about sexting pics

Teenagers using cellphones
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As cell phone and mobile device use grows among junior high and high school students, the issue of  teen sexting has reared its head into our communities. From teen chat rooms – where sexting pics are often thought of as 'private' even as terms such as 'Kik sexting' and 'Snapchat sexting' take firm root in our world – to online child predators who literally hunt down and intimidate teens and tweens into sending provocative photos, youngsters are taking naked pics and they are being distributed via phone and internet.

Not only are parents having to deal with the implications of teenagers sending lewd cell phone pictures and texts, but educators and law enforcement have joined the fray as an epidemic of new cases--and the passage of stronger sexting laws – are now affecting others outside the parties involved.

Like so many other teen issues, parents should be vigilant about their student's cell phone use and open the lines of communication on teen sexting, says Lori Cunningham, of WellConnectedMom.com, a blog focused on moms and technology.

"You have a sex talk with your child, you need to have a sext talk with your child," Cunningham said, in a telephone interview. "Success with teen sexting has a lot to do with communication between parents and children."

While a cell phone was once used to build status, today's teen is now engaging with technology alongside the naturally hormonal days of middle and high school.

The end result, Cunningham says, is the potential for sexting to occur as your teen begins to date.

Yet, rather than focusing on teen sexting alone, Cunningham says a honest look at teens and dating  can go a long way towards preventing consequences from sharing sexually-explicit photos and text messages with others.

"If you interview teens, a majority will say sexting is bad," she said. "But, when they are in a relationship, the difference is that trust which develops – they feel [their significant others] have their backs. Unfortunately, once they break up, that is when these pictures are passed around."

Cunningham encourages parents to be loving but firm in explaining that not all relationships work out and sometimes  teen break ups do not end well. If teens are sharing these pictures, they most likely will be seen, she said.

Finally, parents aren't excused from this responsibility just because you don't understand the technology.

"This is the communication of today's generation," Cunningham said. "Understanding today's technology and using it with their teens will bond parents with their teens (because they're using the teen's main communication channel) as well as potentially protect their teens from dangerous situations."

Top 7 Tips for Talking About Sexting with Teens

As a parent, preventing sexting requires communication and preparation. Here are a few stand-out tips from my talk with Mrs. Cunningham:

Assess Maturity Before Giving Kids a Cell Phone

Cunningham cites Dr. Charles Sophy, medical director for the Los Angeles County Department of Children's Services, in advising parents to consider cell phone use at age 12.

However, she cautions, not every child is ready then.

Consider a Parent-Teen Cell Phone Contact

Establish expectations and guidelines for your teen and put them in writing.   

Let Teens Know Their Limits

In addition to choosing appropriate data and text messaging limits, parents should also explain their teen does not own their mobile device.

Know Who They Are Talking To

Keep communication open and revisit these expectations on a regular basis by checking their mobile device for sexting and other problem activities. Prohibit teens from enabling cell phone passwords and penalize them they do in an attempt to hide their activity.

Follow up with your teen about who they are friends with, both online and off.

Discuss the Laws, Sexting Consequences

Research online about sexting laws in your jurisdiction, and the fallout from sexting. Read stories with your teen about how sexting has affected teens, from college and job searches, to prosecution and even suicide.

Warn Them About Posting, Sending Personal Information

Regardless of medium, teens should be taught never to share identifying information about them through IM, email or text messaging, including school, phone number or home address.

When in Doubt, Block Photo Messaging

Most cell phone carriers can block users from sending or receiving photo messages, if they do not offer a plan without this service. If you are having issues with sexting, or are concerned you might, you can always adjust your teen's mobile plan.

Need more help talking about sexting? Cunningham offers a free "Teens and Cell Phones Primer" eBook on her website.