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How To Stop Adolescents and Teens From 'Sexting' ...by Bill Knell

"Sexting' has become the 'playing doctor' of the twenty-first century among adolescents. In the days before cell phones and home computers, parents were annoyed and embarrassed when they caught one of their kids stripping naked with a sibling or neighborhood child. Although considered innocent exploration back in those times, it was still not acceptable behavior and most children that engaged in it were tutored on why they should not take their clothes off and expose themselves to other kids or visa versa.

The real problem is puberty. It affects each child differently and can cause some to get in real trouble. Adolescents begin to enter puberty at different ages. Girls are usually first, but many boys begin to get curious about their bodies and those of others before showing all the outward signs. Enter technology: children are being given cell phones at younger ages these days to provide their parents with a quick way to make sure their kids are alright or track them down quickly when they do not check in on time. The vast majority of these phones have cameras and kids know how to use them.

Whether it is 'sexting' or playing doctor in the attic, the concept is the same. There are some adolescents and teens that want to see other kids naked, and others who enjoy showing their bodies off to their peers. Like it or not, it has always been that way. When these two kinds of kids get together, watch out! It is a perfect storm for trouble and an open invitation to taking and sending each other naughty pictures.

While 'sexting' could be nothing more than a kind of innocent flirtation as far as teens are concerned, it never seems to end well. When the romantic flame goes out, former boy or girl friends use naughty photos against each other by sharing and posting them online. Even worse, there are more than a few adolescents and teens that have become collectors of those kinds of pictures and that places them squarely up against child pornography laws.

It will not be long before we see kids that are just ten or eleven years old being labeled as sex offenders because of all this. A recent study of junior and senior high school kids showed that up to 22 percent admitted having been photographed without their clothes on, having photographed others who were naked, or having shared nude photos with others using cell phones or other technology. That's why you have to do everything possible to keep your kids from getting involved with those kinds of things in the first place.

Opening the lines of communication is a great way to stop your child from 'sexting' or acting in an inappropriate manner with other kids. Explain to them the need for modesty. Even if their best friend says something like, "I'll show you mine if you show me yours," the answer always has to be a resounding "No" because that kind of activity is not acceptable outside of a school shower room. It can and often does lead to inappropriate touching which is something that adolescents are emotionally unprepared for and you need to make them understand that.

If your child is being pressured to remove their clothes, touch or be touched by a peer or anyone, you need to know about it and make sure that they are ready and willing to report it to you. Kids often feel that parents will yell at them or punish them if they tattle on a friend, relative or someone else that is trying to get them to do something wrong. Once they know that their parents are not going to hold them responsible for that kind of a situation, the way is clear for them to report any instances of inappropriate behavior directed towards them.

Make sure that your child understands that taking, sending, receiving or possessing photos of nude minors (including themselves) is not only ill-advised, it is illegal. Show them the web sites that list sex offenders and ask them if they would like to be considered one. Let them know all the consequences of being caught taking or sharing inappropriate photos. Ask them if they would like to walk down their street being pointed at by all their friends and neighbors as a criminal convicted of a sex crime? That should help drive the point home to them.

Children live in the now, so explain to your child that sent photos cannot be taken back. Once they are out there, it is almost certain that they will be shared and uploaded online. Surveys say that it is usually a best friend or close relative that is guilty of sharing photos meant for their eyes only. The temptation to score peer points is just too great. Your child needs to know that when it comes to taking, sharing or possessing nude photos, no one can or should be trusted.

Sleep-overs have become grand opportunities for kids to photograph each other naked. Whether they pose for the photos, or someone they trust partially undresses them and takes photos while they sleep, the result is the same and it is not good. I highly recommend that parents confiscate cell phones and digital cameras during sleep-overs and well before bedtime. There is no way to know what kids are doing unless you are right there in the room with them at all times and that just is not a practical solution.

'Sexting' is not just a cell phone thing. Kids use web cams and email to get that nasty job done. Parents should always have a list of all their children's email accounts and regularly check them. The same for computer files. This will not make you the most popular parent in the world, but popularity is not your mission. Your mission is to try and get your kid to their eighteenth birthday without harming themselves or others in physical or emotional ways. You not only need to teach your child values, but enforce them as long as they are underage and live in your home.

One way to be sure that older teens stay away from 'sexting' is to insist that you own and pay for their phone. If that is the case, be sure your teen understands that if they take or share nude photos, they lose their texting privileges altogether. If you have already caught your kid taking or sending nude photos, it is time for some serious tough love in the form of no texting, weekly phone inspections and serious punishments if they violate the rules. Cell phone companies now offer parents many options to help prevent things like 'sexting' and you should ask them about that when setting up a cell phone account for a minor of any age.


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