Anthony Weiner isn't the only one sending suggestive photos on the Internet. My small suburban town on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge has been rocked by a "Weinergate"-type scandal over the past few weeks. Several young teenagers have been caught sending and receiving explicit photos via text messages and email.
The schools and local authorities are doing their best to nip this "sexting ring" in the bud and use it as teaching experience for kids and parents alike. No one will be prosecuted at this point, according to the authorities. But it sure is a wake-up call for a town where parents have raised their kids on attachment parenting, organic food and politically correct fairy tales.
Is Your Teen Involved?
Before you wipe your brow and thank the heavens that your child isn't involved, read on.
If your teen has a cell phone, he's probably texting. And if he's texting, he may well be sexting.
Despite how Internet-savvy you think you are, there is a good chance that you won't even know if your kid is doing it. Remember, our kids were practically born with cell phones in their hands. Their Facebook pages mean more important to them than their birth certificates. They live and breathe this stuff, and they are good at hiding their tracks.
A survey published in the July 2012 issue of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine shows that teenage sexting is on the rise. 28% of the 1,000 teenagers surveyed admitted that they texted fully nude pictures of themselves, and 31% of teens had been asked by someone to send a naked picture to them. 57% of the teenagers surveyed said they were "bothered" by requests to sext.
According to the survey, socio-economic status has no effect on sexting. Teens from affluent areas with college-educated parents are sexting to the same degree as teens whose parents have a high school diploma.
Moreover, white kids sext more than any other demographic. White students reported sexting in the highest percentage (35%), nearly double that of Asians (19). African Americans were a somewhat distant second at 27%, followed by Hispanics (21%) and Asians.
As parents, the numbers are simply not on our side. No matter how convinced we may be that our child would never do something like that, there is the possibility that we are wrong. Which means that it's our responsibility as parents to have that difficult conversation with our teen-- the one that starts with, "Have you ever sent or received naked pictures?"
What to Do about Sexting?
So what steps do we parents take if we suspect that our teen is sexting, or are worried that he might do so in the future?
Talk to your teen. Discuss the possible long-term consequences of getting involved in sexting. Like the fact that nude images of kids under age 18 are child pornography, which is illegal. And that sending nude pictures of kids under age 18 can be considered "trafficking" of child pornography. Talk about the short-term consequences, like the whole school getting hold of a "private" photo that was meant to be shared only with a boyfriend. Remind your teen that once an image is sent, it can never be retrieved -- and they will lose control of it.
Teach your teen that the buck stops with them. If someone sends them a photo, they should delete it immediately and tell the sender to not send anymore explicit photos because their cell phone is monitored. It's better to be part of the solution than the problem.
Set rules. When you give your kids a cell phone, establish some ground rules. Start random checks of the phone and go through everything on it regularly. Software like My Mobile Watchdog allows parents to view every text and picture message that kids send and receive on their cell phones, as well as in their email.
Take away the cell phone. If sexting continues despite your efforts to stop it, you need to take away your teen's phone. And to those who argue that their kids "need" cell phones, get them the most basic model possible, with no texting capabilities.
Don't wait for an incident to happen to your child before you talk about the consequences of sexting. Sure, talking about sex or dating with teens can be uncomfortable, but it's better to have the talk before something happens.