Curiosity about anatomy has always been a mainstay of childhood and adolescence. Unless games like “You show me yours, I’ll show you mine” become invasive or abusive, adults generally smile and look the other way. But should they ignore it when children use technology to send sexual content?
An increasing number of teens are engaging in sexting, which the Cyberbullying Research Center defines as “sending or receiving sexually explicit or sexually suggestive nude or seminude images or video, usually via a cell phone.” Although sexual curiosity isn’t unhealthy on its own, the medium used to share this content can lead to consequences teens don’t always consider.
How Is Sexting Detrimental?
Although many therapeutic professionals stress that this is a natural part of teens’ social and sexual development, there are times curiosity can become coercion. Young people might do more than they’re comfortable with in an effort to secure a boyfriend or girlfriend, or to fill someone else’s desire — or even demand — for exposure. These teenagers might not understand that a sexually explicit photo can’t be unseen — or unsent.
Though kids might engage in sexting hoping for acceptance, it‘s led to ruined reputations and, in extreme cases, suicide. A tragic example involved an alcohol-fueled party at which teenage boys drew derogatory words onto the body of an unconscious young woman and sexually assaulted, then took and shared photos. The girl’s mother found her after she’d hanged herself in her bedroom.
A young woman named Allyson Pereira courageously shares her experience with the consequences of sexting: An ex-boyfriend told her he’d take her back if she sent him a revealing picture. After she did so, he shared the image as revenge. Pereira says she quickly went from being the consummate “good girl” to one with a sullied reputation. She endured harassment from students and adults, and she says her life became “a living hell.” She now educates others as an anti-bullying advocate.
What Can Parents Do About Sexting?
- Discuss texting before it occurs – Talking about sex can be uncomfortable for parents and kids, but it’s an important part of parental responsibility.
- Ask your children what they think about the trend – Make that a launching point.
- Share your feelings about texting – Once you know what they are.
- Explain the legal and social consequences – Sexting can damage employment and educational opportunities, as well as future relationships.
- Point out that relationships sometimes sour – Even with people they think they can trust – and explicit words and images can be used to harm them.
- Remind them that anything they share can be spread – Suggest they don’t share anything they wouldn’t want the world to see.
- Monitor your teens’ phone and computer use – Set security controls if you need to.
- Be in touch with the parents of your children’s friends to get a sense of their feelings on the matter – Speak to your kids about boundaries in relationships. Tell them they never should compromise physically or emotionally for love and acceptance.
- Teach them “no means no” – And that their bodies belongs to them, not a partner.
- Remember that while these concepts apply to boys and girls, girls are more likely to be victimized – By the impact of sexting, as the double standard about sexuality is prevalent.
- Intervene quickly if you learn your child is engaged in this practice – Use it as a teaching tool to help him or her regain self-respect — and perhaps even save lives.
By Edie Weinstein, LSW
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