Sexting: we’re hearing more and more about it. But what do we do about it as parents? How can we teach our kids the pitfalls and dangers of it in a way they will understand and listen to? The Priory Group, the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK, provides this advice for modern parents.
Sexting: riskier than kids realise
Sexting is a worrying trend but by talking to your teen you can help make them aware of the consequences and guard against the risks.
Sexting, the act of sending an explicit picture or text message, is rising among young people, but they are engaging in something far riskier than they realise.
For those who fall victim to the dangers of sexting, there can be a negative and traumatic effect on their mental health. Some of the many hazards of sexting include: private images/messages becoming public, negative impact on self-esteem, anxiety and depressive symptoms and escalation to riskier sexual behaviours. This can even interfere with a young person’s future prospects.
Steps to take when talking about sexting
1. Realise it’s hard to talk about for you
The impulsive nature of teenagers and their susceptibility to peer pressure can make it difficult to approach them about sexting, not to mention the shared embarrassment of the ‘s-word’, but these are barriers you as a parent must break down. Your child needs to know you will be supportive and understanding, no matter what the problem is, and this means being open with them. The best way to help prevent sexting is to discuss it with them early, by knowing the boundaries you accept as a parent regarding mobile phone use, the more likely they will be to accept them. Make sure your teen is in a rational and calm state and bring up the subject.
2. Explain the consequences to them
Young people aren’t always aware of the consequences their actions may have, and the smart phone generation have greater opportunities to act on impulses — and greater opportunities to make mistakes. With certain apps there is the belief that the image quickly disappears, but there are screenshot functions making this just as unsafe. The tribulations of hormones, confusion over sexual feelings, peer pressure and a desire to obtain positive comments to inflate self-esteem all contribute to a teens desire to sext. It’s crucial to remain non-judgemental and supportive (we were all teenagers once). By doing this, you can enable your child to challenge peer pressure.
3. Keep the discussion “real”
In discussion, try to relate real-life examples; discuss the potential for bullying, blackmail and the damage to future career prospects sexting can have. It can affect a person’s reputation as well as their emotional wellbeing. And don’t forget, being asked to sext is illegal for minors, so it’s important they understand the repercussions of their actions.
If a young person finds their image has been circulated to either a peer group or further afield, possibly by an older person, the distress can seriously damage their mental health and result in self harm, dietary problems and much more. So be open and honest with your child, discuss the issue, and help them from lapsing into risky behaviours. Parents: talk to your teen!