I will be the first to confess that sometimes when I look at my kids, my eyes do not work. Seriously. They recalibrate to another version of reality; the comfortable one. Sometimes when I look at my kids, a soft focus frames the picture and butterflies and sunshine fill in around their little faces. Nope, I do not see them at their true ages—12 and 17—I see them at four, or six or nine. Ah, nine was nice—back “Before Cell phones” (BC) barged in and disrupted the idyllic picture.
It is hard for parents to imagine the possibility that their kids could be like “those other kids” online; that they could bend the rules, accept a stranger’s friend request, blast out personal information, or even engage in the unimaginable act of sexting.
Nope, not our kids.
But it happens. Every day.
And, as parents, it is critical to parent from an AC (After Cell phones) reality. A 2012 report from The Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found sexting to be on the rise among teens. According to the study, one in four teens admitted to having sent a naked picture of himself or herself via text or email. In addition, teens that engaged in sexting were also found to be as much as 82 percent more likely to be having sex compared to the non-sexting teens.
Here are three signs your teen may be sexting and what can you do about it:
- They become overly protective of their cell phones to the point of grabbing it away from you or sleeping with it under their pillow.
- They insist on texting with friends from a private place or turn their back to text when someone comes near.
- They become uncomfortable, angry, or defensive when you question their secretive phone use.
Go with your gut. If you suspect your teen may be sexting, you are probably on to something. As you know full well, a parent’s intuition is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal. Do not deny your suspicions—bring them out into the open and deal with the issues.
Review their texts. That’s right. Ask your kids for their phones and review their texts. While you are at it, review their email and Facebook messages too. Some teens—and even parents—may cry “privacy violation” at this point but teaching mobile responsibility is a serious thing. The consequences of sexting can range from trauma, to criminal charges, reputation damage, even suicide if a sexting situation gets out of control.
Limits and filtering. We recommend a steady flow of open communication around mobile expectations, setting time limits (no late night mobile or PC use), and protecting your teen’s cell phone with filtering devices. Be sure to put consequences on the table before a situation arises.