Most parents can agree, having the “sex chat” with their children was not something they looked forward to. However, sex education is a necessary conversation – and these days, so is safe sexting education.
According to a recent survey from the creators of the Jiminy app, children are often exposed to sexual content by the age of 10. As such, the sext chat is not only imperative, it’s crucial to your child’s future. This isn’t just about humiliation, hurting job or college prospects, cyberbullying and the like. There are also potential legal consequences.
The Cyberbullying Research Center notes: “First, according to the formal letter of the law, nudes could be classified as child pornography if the depicted individual is under the age of 18. The sender and recipient can be charged criminally if caught under those laws which were meant to apply to adults who exploited children.”
It’s Time for Safe Sexting Education
The best way to offer safe sexting education to young people today is from us – parents, teachers, and communities. Nothing replaces parenting wisdom as well as education to better equip our children for the potential risks of sending or receiving sexual content.
We need to broaden our conversations. As much as we want to tell them, “DON’T SEND SEXT MESSAGES!” it doesn’t always work. Like many parents and grandparents told us not to have sex, we need to change the conversation to informing them of safe strategies if they do choose to engage in this online behavior, or if they are struggling with peer pressure to participate.
In their recent report, It’s Time To Teach Safe Sexting, Drs. Sameer Hinduja and Justin Patchin understand that teen sexting is a problem. They also note that, according to their own studies, it’s not slowing down.
“This is not about encouraging sexting behaviors, any more than sex education is about encouraging teens to have sex,” said Hinduja. “It simply recognizes the reality that young people are sexually curious, and some will experiment with various behaviors with or without informed guidance, and sexting is no exception.”
This is exactly why they have concluded that we must take steps in reducing the ramifications of a sexting disaster for your child or, worse, having your child become a victim of sextortion.
7 Safe Sexting Education Tips
The “birds and bees” talk is usually a once or twice conversation with your teen, but when it comes to the digital age, this needs to be an ongoing dialogue. Technology is always growing, changing and evolving – where parents used to keep tabs on their child’s activities such as school, sports and friends, we’ve now added a massive virtual playground of many unknown destinations.
Here are seven smart tips to share with every young person.
1. If someone sends you a sext, do not send it to—or show—anyone else.
This could be considered non-consensual sharing of pornography. There are laws prohibiting that, with serious penalties – especially if the image portrays a minor.
2. If you send someone a sext, make sure you know and fully trust them.
“Catfishing” – where someone sets up a fictitious profile or pretends to be someone else to lure you into a fraudulent romantic relationship (and, often, to send sexts) – happens more often than you think.
3. Do not send images to someone who you are not certain would like to see it.
This means you should make sure you receive textual consent that they are interested. Sending unsolicited explicit images to others could also lead to criminal charges.
4. Consider boudoir pictures.
Boudoir is a genre of photography that involves suggestion rather than explicitness. Instead of nudes, send photos that strategically cover the most private of private parts.
5. Never include your face.
This is so that images are not immediately identifiable as yours, but also because certain social media sites have sophisticated facial recognition algorithms that automatically tag you in any pictures you would want to stay private.
6. Make sure the images do not include tattoos, birthmarks, scars, or other features.
These can also connect the photo to you. In addition, remove all jewelry before sharing, and consider your surroundings. Bedroom pictures could, for example, include wall art or furniture that others recognize.
7. Be sure to promptly delete any explicit photos or videos from your device.
This applies to images you take of yourself and images received from someone else. Having photos stored on your device increases the likelihood that someone—a parent, the police, a hacker—will find them. Possessing nude images of minors may have criminal implications. In 2015, for example, a North Carolina teen was charged with possessing child pornography, even though the image on his phone was of himself.
About the Author
Sue Scheff is a Nationally Recognized author, Parent Advocate and Family Internet Safety Advocate. She founded Parents Universal Resources Experts, Inc. in 2001. She has been featured on the Today Show, 20/20, Anderson Cooper and more. She’s also a contributor for Psychology Today, NBC’s Education Nation and Today Show Parents. You can follow her on Twitter and join her on Facebook.