Back when we parents were tweens and learned about the facts of life, we had no idea what selfies, apps and sexting were. They did not exist. Ah, the good old days.
Now, however, those items seem very much related to a child's discovery and exploration of his/her sexuality. Did you know a study published in last month's journal Pediatrics found that 22% of seventh graders surveyed had sexted. That's almost one quarter.
I spoke with Jo Langford, a therapist, teen sex educator, dad and author of "The SEX-EDcyclopedia," about this frightening phenomenon of sexting. "Most parents think, 'Oh, not my kid.' They should counterbalance that and say, 'Maybe my kid.'"
"Sexting happens so frequently. It’s a regular occurrence," he said.
The startling number of kids sexting back him up.
Even if you're certain that your children and their friends would never dream of sharing explicit photos and messages, it is still important to talk to them about what sexting is and how your child should handle it should they receive an inappropriate message. Even if your tween does not have a smart phone, parents still need to have the conversation. With internet access, they could receive a sext via app, or just be looking at a friend's phone.
Langford shared a story about an 11 year-old he knew who lost his smartphone. Hours later, his parents started receiving calls from other parents saying that they were receiving sexts from the child's phone, the one he lost. Turns out the strange who found the tween's phone started sexting all of the contacts in the phone, a bunch of other 11 year-olds.
You want to have the conversation before it ever happens so that they know they come to you or another trusted adult.
"There are bad guys out there, parents are good at screening for those stories." Langford said, "Most of the damage done online to kids, however, is done to and by themselves. Sexting is one of the big bads in terms of that."
I recently wrote an article for Make It Better entitled How to Talk With Your Kids About Sexting. Please check it out for expert advice on what and how to talk to kids about sexting, how to weave it into the conversation you're already having about online behavior and how to use recent news stories to make your point.
I'm also a big fan of watching really short videos with your kid as a way of starting the conversation. Check out this 40 second anti-sexting ad from Canada that makes the good point "there's no such thing as 'just one photo.'"
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