What parents need
to know about sexting

It would be easy to think that sexting scandals only involve people in the public eye such as golfing champion Tiger Woods or more recently, rapper Snoop Dogg, and that parents and carers don’t need to worry about sexting. The reality is that parents need to take a role in educating teens about the negative consequences of sexting. Unfortunately sexting is common, especially among tweens and teens.

Sexting means someone has sent a sexually suggestive photo, text or video to another person.

For adolescents, sexting may be considered a normal way of showing they like each other and may be feeling pressure from the person they are dating or have a crush on to send photos or videos. The issue for the teen here is that because the person on the other end of the phone is someone they know and trust, they are manipulated into believing the person receiving the sexts would never distribute them. They may also be feeling peer pressure from friends at school to do it too.

They may not be thinking much about the consequences of their actions as they press “send”, or even be unaware that photos, videos or messages can go viral. Parents can keep their teens safe by having open discussions about healthy dating, peer pressure and digital security.

In Canada, it’s known that children as young as nine have been involved in sexting, while an overseas study found one in seven teens are sending sexts. Also a growing number of teens are having those sexts forwarded, without their consent.

Though it may be that adolescents are more comfortable talking about sexting among themselves, parents and carers need to talk to their children about how to stay safe online. With a topic like this it’s easier said than done, it can be an uncomfortable conversation for a parent to have with their teen. If the teen has an older sibling or cousin that they are close with it might be worth seeing if they will speak to the teen about sexting and the repercussions it can have. They might have stories from when they were at school or have friends who’ve had bad experiences that they can share with the teen.

They need to outline to their teens how they can make smart decisions, discuss their child’s right to say no when pressured and reinforce their self-worth. It is also important to speak to them about the possible life consequences for those that send and distribute these images.

Many people don’t realise that if the person in the photos/videos is under 18, it is viewed as distributing child pornography and this is a criminal offence that can affect them for the rest of their lives. They will struggle to find work, have difficulty travelling overseas and may not be accepted into certain universities. Some countries are starting to realise that convicting teens of child pornography and burdening them with a sex offender conviction may not fit the crime but unfortunately the laws in Australia have not yet caught up.

There are also possible consequences for those that send images of themselves including bullying, harassment and possible expulsion or suspension from school.

Even though it can be overwhelming for parents and caregivers, opening up lines of communication with teens and guiding them into understanding what the consequences of sexting could be and why they need to think more carefully before pressing the “send” button is an invaluable chat that we need to have.

It may be wise for parents and carers to have a series of ongoing conversations with their teens rather than one “big talk” as it’s a good way to check in with what’s going on. They can explain why it is never a good idea to send sexually suggestive photos, texts or videos to another person. Make it clear that once the image, text or video is sent, they no longer have control over what happens to it. It is also really important for the parent/guardian to make this conversation as natural as possible, it should not feel forced and they shouldn’t make the teen feel as though they’re receiving a ‘lecture.’

You could start this conversation by bringing up Snoop Dogg’s sexting scandal and if the teen then opens up to you it’s important to support them not criminalise them, let them know you are here to help, that you always have their best interests at heart and you are there to listen to them.

The Western Sydney Family Referral Service can help you find the support you need to support your child in the best way possible. Call us on 1300 403 373 for more information.

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