I'm willing to bet that if you ask parents if they think that their tweens and teens are sexting, most would say, "No, not my kid," while emphatically shaking their head. I'll also hazard a guess that less than 20 percent would say "Eh, maybe?"
However, the statistics show that 20% of kids engage in sexting.
Sexting is defined by the FBI and other law enforcement officials "youths sending or posting sexually suggestive text messages and images, including nude or seminude photographs, via cellular telephones or over the Internet."
Although some states are developing laws specific to minors sending explicit images to each other and treating it separately from pornography, many states, including Illinois, treat the messaging of nude photos by middle school and high school students as pornography.
Here are some stats:
* A recent study found that 20 percent of teenagers (22 percent of girls and 18 percent of boys) sent naked or seminude images of themselves or posted them online. That study, cited by the FBI, was conducted in 2010. That appears to be the most recent study, and I think it's safe to assume that the number has certainly not declined and has likely increased.
* "While nearly 70% of teen boys and girls who sext do so with their girlfriend or boyfriend, 61% of all sexters who have sent nude images admit that they were pressured to do it at least once," according to DoSomething.org's 11 Facts about Sexting.
* When teen girls were asked why they sext, 40 percent said they do it as a joke, 34 percent do it to feel sexy, and 12 percent feel pressured to do it, reports DoSomething.org
Jo Langford, a sex educator and therapist, told me once that he wishes that instead of parents saying, "No, not my kid" that parents would just once think "Maybe. Maybe my kid would do that." Perhaps such a though would motivate them to take the steps to talk with their kids about sexting.
TALKING ABOUT SEXTING
Talking about it isn't easy, but it is important. Start by asking kids what they think sexting is and what they know about, suggests Kortney Peagram of Bulldog Solution. Ask if they know people who do it. Show them the stats above if you think that would help.
Parents need to let kids know where they stand on the issue of sexting. Let them know that you believe it is unacceptable and that it can have serious consequences, possibly including suspension from school and police involvement, as well as being something that can stay on their permanent record that could hurt their chances of getting into college or getting a job.
Talk to them about keeping private parts private. One good rule: if you wouldn't share it with your family, don't share it online.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests, "Monitor headlines and the news for stories about “sexting” that illustrate the very real consequences for both senders and receivers of these images."
Depending on the age and maturity of your tween, consider sharing the blog post “My 12 Year Old Was Blackmailed for Nude Photos” from PlaydatesonFridays.com, in which a tween didn't come to her mother when being pressured to send nude photos via Kik.
It is scary, and eye opening for both parents and kids. It's a great jumping off point for a conversation and covers a lot of topics, including that sexting happens on a variety of platforms, that not getting help means the problems will just escalate, and the importance of having an online connection only with people they know in real life.
Parents, as usual, have a fine line to walk. While making it clear to your child that you don't ever condone sexting, also make it clear that kids can come to you if/when they encounter any sexting situation.
Encourage your children to let you know if they ever have an issue, be it receiving a sexually explicit text, or being pressured to send photos. In fact, let them know they can come to you with any issue.
As Whitney Fleming of Playdates on Fridays suggests, "treat it like drinking and driving — there is no instance about social media where they should be scared to tell you what they have done or contact you to help get them out of trouble."
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