As a parent, think back to the mischief you got into as a child. Now think of all that has changed since then. There have been multitudes of avenues that have opened where young people today can get themselves into trouble. The major avenues I speak of relate to the advances in technology. “Sexting” is the act of an individual taking a naked photograph of themselves, or part of themselves, and sending it via social medias, specifically the Internet or cellular phones. It is a portmanteau of the words “sex” and “texting”. Sexting surfaced in 2005 and is increasing in its societal prevalence as fast as the latest technology will allow it. There are significant dangers associated with participating in such behaviours, and as parents, you need to know how to inform your teens (and pre-teens!) about these dangers.
Reports suggest that 1 in 5 teens have sent a picture of themselves fully or partially nude by phone or e-mail in the last half decade. It has been reported that an even higher number have received one of these pictures. The question must be asked, “Why would my child do such a thing?” and furthermore, “How can I stop it?”
There are two main reasons reported by teens as to why they are participating in this behaviour. The first reason (no surprise here) is peer pressure. Females report this more often than males. The large amount of teenage girls that have sent a “sext” (text message with visual sexual content) said that someone pressured them into doing so. The second reported reason for sexting is as some sort of mating ritual. Just as male peacocks expose the beauty of their feathers when incising a mate, teens are exposing themselves in an attempt to increase the likelihood of someone they like, liking them in return.
Through my personal experience talking to teens in high schools about this behaviour, it seems that young men have now caught onto this sexting frenzy and are reinforcing it as a normal gesture of indicating affection. They are sexting females, and therefore, encouraging young woman to return the favour.
These pressures applied to the technology generation of your children need to be fully and properly addressed by you parents in order to ensure their protection. Here are some suggestions.
First, show your kids you are not living in the Stone Age, which they may believe to be true (Can you fully blame them? Can you explain the difference between an itouch, ipod and iphone?). You need to educate yourself on the latest technologies and their capabilities. In doing so, you can catch the classic cry of “you wouldn’t understand” before it comes. Tell them you know what kids are doing today with their phones and computers and you want to help them face these difficult peer pressures. This compassionate discussion will hopefully allow your children to understand this social danger that is affecting the lives of teens everywhere.
Secondly, let them hear the truth about sexting from you and not from their friends. When we fail to address issues with our children that they are curious about, they will turn to the most comfortable source for knowledge they can for answers – even if it is knowingly not the best one. Providing the truth about the emotional pain that exposing oneself can cause and, furthermore, the detrimental social ramifications will help to eliminate any glamorous elements associated with participating in this risky behaviour. Outlining the potential of pictures being spread across the Internet is a key component of highlighting the extreme danger of sexting. The example of Disney’s High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens drives this point home. If you asked any teen, they would likely know who she is, but more importantly, what she did. They would probably not discuss her according to her role as an actress, but rather by the naked photograph she took of herself which leaked all over the Internet dominating search engines worldwide. This goes to show how a single photograph can change a person’s reputation – and life – in a matter of seconds.
Lastly, protective measures may need to be taken in allowing your children access to mobile phones and web cameras. If they are allowed access, you as the parent may request a spontaneous check of their photographs. Having cameras in a public space in the home may be something to think about. You may also consider joining their Facebook and MySpace pages to supervise the content that they are posting. Whatever amount of parental supervision you choose to have over your children’s use of technology is up to you. However, the point I desire to make here once more is that children need protection and it is your job as a parent to give it to them.
With ever evolving ways to expose sights to kids they should not be seeing and give them access to behaviours they should not be doing, the way we protect our children requires extra special care and diligence in our changing world. Learning to protect your children and teaching them how to protect themselves is a valuable lesson that begins with knowing what you are protecting them from. Remind them you are there to guide them through the rough roads of teenage hood by helping them avoid making decisions they will regret and cannot escape.
B.A. Honors Specialization Psychology