Girls Rule! Parent ToolKit: Talking to Youth About “Sexting.”
By Ladon Thames Brumfield, Executive Director
http://www.girlz-rule.org/

UPDATE: AmplifyYourVoice.org, a global organization dedicated to empowering and educating youth to facilitate change within their communities presented this article to peer youth educators globally, to utilize as a tool when educating youth and their families about SEXting.

Texting on a keyboard phone

Sexting

Multi media technology is wonderful. It helps us to stay connected to family and friends and helps us to communicate from just about any part of the world with flexibility and ease. It has also, however given birth to yet another area for parents to vigilantly safeguard their children against: “Sexting.”

What is “Sexting?” I’m glad you asked. “Sexting” refers to the sharing of sexually oriented material via cell phone such as distribution of nude pictures, sexually suggestive typed responses to text messages and everything in between.

Recently, I received an email from the father of a very bright and outgoing 7th grade young lady who discovered that his daughter had recently received suggestive messages from a boy she liked at school. Fighting back his initial impulse, which was to “blow up” and kick start his own Law and Order :SVU, Elliot Stabler style high pressure suspect interview session, he asked me the best way help his daughter deal with this type of peer pressure to better equip her to make good decisions regarding the perils of one-click technology.

This father is not alone. The reality is that “sexting” amongst youth is a quickly rising trend. A 2008 survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy found that 39 percent of teens have sent or posted sexually suggestive messages and 48 percent say they have received such messages. If your child has not encountered such materials now, it is likely that they will in the future.

Parents, What Can You Do?
Answer: EDUCATE

Talk About It: Talk with your child about “sexting” in a relaxed setting. Ask them what they know about it (they may not have heard the term, so “naked photo-sharing” works too), or what they think about it. Reference recent Miley Cirus, Vanessa Hudges or Rihanna photo sharing faux pas. While teens may view ”sexting” as an innocent practice, the results can have lasting negative effects. Reputations, social lives, and future careers can be ruined as a result of nude pictures going public. Try walking them through the consequences of such images or text messages being shared with school peers and others by focusing on how they would feel if the content were shared, how others would view them and their character, what might be said behind their backs, etc. Also, encourage them not to share messages forwarded to them about others. Express how you feel in a conversational, supportive, non-confrontational way. A two-way dialog can go a long way toward building healthy communication between you and your child and helping them to understand how to minimize legal, social and reputation risks.

Many Causes: Recognize that there are many causes for “sexting.” In some cases, kids are responding to peer pressure or pressure from a boyfriend or girlfriend. Help them to think through what may happen to the content in the event of a break up. “Sexting” is also sometimes simply impulsive behavior, flirting, or even revenge. Help your child to understand that whether a message is about them or someone else, it’s always a bad idea.

It’s Illegal: Encourage them not to take or send nude or sexually suggestive photos of themselves or anyone else. Help them to understand that if they do, even if the pictures are of themselves or if they pass along someone else’s – they could be charged with producing or distributing child pornography. If they keep them on their phone or computer they could be charged with possession. If the photos or messages go to someone in another state (and that happens really easily), it’s a federal felony.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of discussing the emotional (and reputation) damage that can come from having intimate photos (or messages) of your child go to a friend who can become an ex-friend and sent it to everyone your child knows. Not only can they be sent around; they can be distributed and archived online for people – including sexual deviants, to search for pretty much forever.

I hope these tips will help you to kick start a wonderfully productive, engaging and educational discussion with the special young person in your life.

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