By the age of 12, many pre-teens have their first cell phone. While most parents hope their teen is responsible with this technology, not all of them are. In fact, between two and seven percent of children under the age of 17 admitted in a report by the Pew Research Center to sexting. In reality, this number is likely much higher.
What can parents do?
This modern form of I’ll-show-you-mine if you-show-me-yours may be nothing more than curiosity and exploration in your teen’s mind, but it can have a significant impact on both her mental health and future relationships. It can also come with legal ramifications.
Law enforcement has taken a serious stance on teen sexting in recent years. One case, involving a 13-year-old girl and 12-year-old boy in Northern Indiana who were sexting nude selfies to each other, resulted in criminal charges. Both were charged with possession of child pornography and child exploitation. Other cases throughout the country have been dealt with the same way. In fact, there are now five states, including Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Utah and Nebraska that have laws addressing underage sexting that can carry felony convictions.
Why so Much Fuss?
Many parents defend their teens, saying the pictures aren’t child pornography and child exploitation, that they are simply the product of sexually curious tweens and teens. This isn’t the case in the eyes of the law, though, and for good reason. While your daughter may initially share a partially or fully nude picture of herself with one person, once she hits send, she is no longer in control of what happens next. It may not be her fault that the boy she trusted sends the picture to half the school, who then upload it onto the internet, where it’s easily found by anyone who cares to look for it- but it is her fault that it was sent in the first place.
In most states, even children who receive sexts like this can be charged by law enforcement if they fail to delete the message, share the picture with others or don’t report the message to the proper authorities.
What Should Parents Do?
The idea of having her picture out in the world for anyone to see can be a damaging thing to your daughter’s mental health. The threat of criminal charges because of it, is even worse. Those charges could affect her entire future- where she is allowed to live, where she can work and even who she can talk to.
So, what are you, as a parent to do?
Have open and honest discussions with your teenager. Use public cases to let them know that this is no joke. This is not an instance where pushing the boundaries is going to get them a different result. There are ramifications to sexting. Let them know what your expectations are and reinforce them.
At the same time, let them know that you are there for them. If they receive one of these messages, you want them to feel comfortable confiding in you and helping them reach out to the proper authorities.
Monitor their usage. You don’t want to violate their privacy, but for the sake of their future and mental health, random searches of their smartphones are sometimes necessary. This not only help deter inappropriate behavior, but helps you catch behavior before it escalates. You can also use apps that monitor digital behavior on a smartphone and will alert you to suspicious activity.
Sexting is not innocent exploration or just kids being kids. This type of messaging is a serious problem and one that can have criminal consequences. Talk to you teenage daughter and make sure she understands.
When to Seek Professional Help
It’s never a bad idea to seek a mental health professional for the sake of your child as well as yourself. If there are deeper, underlying issues that are causing your daughter to look for attention in a sexual manner, she may benefit from the community atmosphere, support and therapy found at Greenbrier Academy for Girls. We understand that there are many ways a person deals with trauma, pain, rejection and low self-worth. Our therapeutic modalities will help your daughter get past the temporary satisfaction of unhealthy behaviors, such as sexting, and get to the root of the issue, which will set her on a path for lifelong success.
Give us a call today. We’d be honored to speak with you about a bright future for your daughter.