Nearly a quarter of seventh graders are sexting - what parents can do about it

Nearly a quarter of seventh graders are sexting - what parents can do about it

Does your tween have a phone? If so, is he/she is sexting?

Although most parents find it hard to fathom of their tween sending graphic and explicit messages and photos, a new study in the journal Pediatrics found that nearly a quarter of seventh graders are sexting.

The study included a survey of 410 seventh graders in Rhode Island found that the 22 percent of 12 to 14 year-olds engaged in sexting in the past six months, and those tweens more likely to engage in sexual behavior.

Researchers found that girls were more likely to send photos of themselves than boys, which they believe happens because boys may request girls’ pictures more often.

What should parents do?

* Check your child's text and photo messages and computer usage.

It is likely that they are not, but the policy of "trust but verify" is always  in order when it comes to tweens and cell phones. Be clear with your tween that you will be checking. Also, parents need to remember that sexting can happen via apps and check all of them. For example, yesterday in the UK Eton College banned Snapchat from its wireless network yesterday amid sexting concerns. (Learn more about Snapchat here.)

* Take their phone at night.

While many people advocate keeping the phone in a central location overnight, such as the kitchen, that's not enough. Many tweens have gone downstairs after their parents are in bed and started messaging on their phone. Sexting or not, that's not ideal. A better way to secure a child's phone is for parents to keep it in their bedroom at night and return it to the tween in the morning. Having it at night is also a good reminder to parents to check the phone.

* Discuss sexting with your tween.

Yes, it may be awkward, but you want them to hear about sexting from you, not their friends. Dr. Christopher Houck, lead author of the study and a psychologist at Rhode Island Hospital, encouraged parents to talk with kids even if they see no evidence of their child engage in sexual behaviors or sexting activity.

Parents need to make sure their kids are aware of the serious consequences of sexting, including the emotional and legal impact it can have.  Sending explicit photos is illegal - it is pornography, and your child needs to know that. Remind them that they can come to you to talk about anything, and especially if they receive such images.

There are resources to help parents through difficult sexting conversations:

- Check out ThatsNotCool.com together - it's a great resource for handling phones, apps and relationships, including sections on Pic Pressure that deals with sexting and gives kids language for saying no to sexting requests. Parents need to review with kids how they would handle such a situation;
- The American Academy of Pediatrics also offers helpful advice at Talking to Kids and Teens About Social Media and Sexting; and
- Common Sense Media also offers tips for parents here.

Start the conversation by watching a video and talking about it. This short video about keeping private parts private uses humor to make that important point. It's a great way to start an important conversation with your kid, one that you need to have in this brave new digital world.

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