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How to Stop Teen Sexting

8:29 AM
How to Stop Teen Sexting

Is your teen "sexting"? Do you know what it is? Chances are your teen does.

A recent MTV and Associated Press poll found more than a quarter of teens and tweens admit to having engaged in "sexting" - the exchange of sexually explicit material via cell phone, email or social networking posts. The poll also indicated that 61 percent of those who have sent sexually explicit messages or photos did so because they were pressured by someone to send the images.

Teenage girls are more likely to send photos than teen boys, but the population of "sexters" is equally split among teens who are sexually active and those who are not. Sexting can be a result of cyber bulling, peer pressure, perceived innocent flirtation or a simple exchange between two romantic partners gone awry. However it occurs, sexting can have lasting and severe consequences.

Recent media reports have linked two teen suicides to sexting. Last spring a middle school student in Florida sent nude photos to a boy she liked that were forwarded to the entire school. The psychological and social torture that ensued allegedly led to her suicide in September. A similar situation happened in Cincinnati, Ohio, when an 18-year-old committed suicide after nude photos she had sent to her boyfriend were viewed by many of her teenage friends.

That situation is not unusual; according to the MTV and Associated Press poll, 17 percent of those who had received naked images had forwarded them to someone else.

The problem for parents is that, developmentally, teens cannot imagine the potentially devastating results of sexting. Exchanging sexual text messages and photos is quickly becoming a romantic ritual of dating.

But the consequences of sending or receiving sexual images are severe. There is the emotional fallout - being the victim of a prank, being pressured to send a "sext" or sending one in a bid for attention can lead to depression and social outcasting.

But there also can be criminal consequences, including potential charges of child pornography for possessing sexually explicit photos of minors - and a lifetime of registering as a sex offender.

Parents and caregivers of teens need to provide accurate and powerful information about the consequences of sexting.

  1. Instructions

    1. Talk! Talk regularly and talk often. Resist the urge to view discussing sex or sexting with your child as the "big (and only) sex talk". Discussions related to sex, your child's sexuality or sexting should start early and be an ongoing dialogue.

    The place to start is to ask your teen or tween if they know what sexting is. Refer to the media stories about the two teens committing suicide to explain the serious nature of sexting. Look for prompts on TV, in movies, music, or books as spring boards to continue to discuss sex, sexuality and sexting with your teen.

  2. Step
    2

    Cater the information given to the age level of your child. Don't assume your teen knows sexting is wrong; explain it to them. Teens cannot fully understand that an impulsive click has the potential to send damaging photos or text messages around the globe.

    Explain the psychological and criminal consequences. Photos posted or text sent can be damaging to another teens' self esteem, reputation and future success academically or damage potential opportunity for employment. Once sent, photos can be archived online and available for viewing permanently.

  3. Step
    3

    Set up parental controls online on your teen's cell phone. You can stay active in your teen's virtual world in a variety of ways: limiting cell phone features, "friending" your teen on social networking sites and knowing passwords to their phones, email and profiles.

    This may generate a teen's common argument that you do not trust them, but remind them that this is an issue of safety. Your monitoring their texting and social networking postings helps monitor predatory behavior, prevent the potential of unforeseen lasting consequences and guard your teen's future success academically and in the work force.

  4. Step
    4

    Remind your teen of the consequences. In states such as Florida, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania, felony charges have been brought against teens for sending sexually explicit photos over their phones. Transmitting sexually explicit depictions of people under 18 is a felony in all 50 states.

    Sexting falls under the child pornography crimes. Producing, distributing and even being in possession of sexually explicit photos from sexting are punishable under law. Being charged as a sex offender or child pornographer is the result. This is a lifelong consequence.

  5. Step
    5

    Know your teen's lingo. If you have ever viewed one of your teen's text messages, it can be like trying to decode a cryptic message with no guidebook! BFF, LMAO,ILYS - it’s a virtual alphabet soup.

    Know which common abbreviations you should be concerned about. Some, like BFF (best friend forever), LMAO (laughing my --- off) and ILYS (I love you so much), are relatively innocent.

    But there are other abbreviations that should raise concern: IPN (I'm posting naked); GAP (got a picture?); P&C (private and confidential); MOS (mom over shoulder); and 9/99 (parent is watching/parent is no longer watching).

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