“I caught my teen posting sexual images!” In a JAMA Pediatrics study, sexting has become more common among adolescents.
Of particular concern, the researchers say, is that about 12 percent of sexts were forwarded without consent, which they called “troubling.” When sexting is coerced, or when sexts are shared without consent, it can lead to harassment by friends, cyberbullying or blackmailing.
All of the above is very worrisome for parents — as we are witnessing the rise of sextortion. Revenge porn and sextortion is no joke. What may have started out as sending flirtatious messages, could end in malicious e-venge. With sextortion, you may not even know the person. To date, 46 states plus D.C. have revenge porn laws.
When young people sext, they often lose control of the situation quickly. Messages can easily be intercepted or forwarded to unintended recipients, which is a nasty form of cyberbullying.
The consequences of sexting also extend offline. When something that was intended to be a private communication ends up in public, the shame and humiliation can drive our kids to the point of self-destruction. Sadly we have read too many stories of death by suicide of teens when sexting has gone wrong.
Another consequence of sexting: Experts have found children and teens that sext are more likely to engage in real-world sexual activity than students who don’t sext.
The Sext Talk
For years, many parents have cringed at the thought of having the birds and the bees conversation. Now, we have to open the door for the sext talk with our kids at an even younger age.
Jessica Logan, Hope Witsell, Audrie Pott and Amanda Todd are all names that have become linked with the aftermath of sexting and cyberbullying, which go hand-in-hand. These young teens died by suicide — as the result of being pressured to send inappropriate images.
As a study in Pediatrics reveals, we have to realize that we’re dealing with even younger emotional lives that are craving the attention to fit-in and be accepted.
It’s a parent’s responsibility to empower their teen with the knowledge to make good choices about how to use all forms of technology and social media.
1. Talk about it. Frequently and start early! Use age appropriate language, however stress the importance of safe sharing online. When your kids hear news of sext crime cases, initiate a conversation. Talk about how sexting leads to negative consequences even for adults. This makes sextortion and the consequences of sexting real.
Slut shaming, blackmail, sextortion, emotional health (harassment), physical health (stalking), overall-safety and mental wellness.
Emily Lindin, author of UnSlut: A Diary and a Memoir, has a strong message that always strikes a chord when she talks with teen girls about slut shaming: she points out that online porn is readily available, so these boys already have all the masturbatory material they could ever desire—what they are really after is power to lord over you, control you, even blackmail you. She asks young women pointedly, “Do you really want to give them that power?” (Except from Shame Nation book)
2. Make it real. Teens don’t always realize that what they do online is real-life. Ask them to consider how they would feel if their teacher or grandparent saw a provocative comment or picture. Remind them there’s no rewind online and no true delete button in the digital world. Comments and photos are not retrievable. In many instances that 15 minutes of gratification can lead to a lifetime of regret and humiliation.
3. Address peer pressure. Give your kids a way out – blame it on us. Tell them to let their friends know that their parents monitor (and/or spot check) their phones and social media platforms, and you can’t risk losing your devices. Teens today are being pressured to send nudes or forms of inappropriate images. In Shame Nation book, a teen that was interviewed during the Duxbury High School sexting scandal, was tired of authorities blaming the girls and shared:
“Girls don’t need to be told to ‘think better of themselves,’” she responds. “Boys need to stop being immature and sick creatures, grow up, and not post girls all over a site for everyone to see. Why are they not telling the boys to stop hounding the girls for naked pictures?” – Ginny, Shame Nation book
4. Discuss legal and online consequences. Depending on your state, there can be legal ramifications when you send sexual content or even participate in forwarding it. What goes online – stays online. This is your digital landscape. Whether it’s your college admissions or a job application, your first impression today is your internet search and social media profile.
5. If you receive a sexual message, never engage in it or forward it. Tell your parent or trusted adult immediately. If necessary, contact the authorities or your school.
6. Know that your parent is only a call away. Let your child know they can always come to you without judgment. These conversations are about building trust — our kids may always be an “app” ahead of us, but we will always be the adult in the family – lead by example and be there for them.
If your teen has been engaging in sexting or sending inappropriate images (sexual or otherwise), this can lead to a high level of distress for a young person — especially if those pictures have gone viral or landed in the wrong hands. Some teens resort to unhealthy ways to cope – such as self-harming, isolating themselves and restricting their dietary intake. It can also lead to high levels of anxiety and symptoms of depression.
Young people are often worried about the consequences of their actions and fear telling their parents or even a trusted adult. This is why the sext talk is imperative – and it happens frequently as a reminder you are always available to them.
If your teen is struggling emotionally, seek help from professionals. If you have exhausted your local resources, learn more about the benefits of behavioral therapy in residential treatment for teens. They will be with other teens that have been through the same troubles they have experienced – it’s gives them that feeling of comfort, they’re not alone. Contact us to learn more.