Raising children in the digital age brings with it a host of challenges previous generations never faced. One such high profile and extremely distressing issue is sexting.
Sexting is an issue that is fast becoming a common problem. As the lives of young people become ever more embedded in social media, its significance and the number of incidences will only increase. All of which of course begs an important question: how can parents protect their kids from sexting?
Sexting advice for parents
Revenge porn typically – but not exclusively – occurs following the breakdown of a relationship. During that relationship ‘sexting’* – the sharing of explicit images/video/text via online messaging tools or apps – has occurred. The content is then used against the former partner.
Sexting and how to protect your child
Best practice suggests that parents need to be taking a proactive approach. As with drugs and alcohol, the best form of defence is to proactively educate children about issues like sexting before they become a part of a child’s relationships.
1. Speak openly and as early as possible
Speak to your children openly about sexual issues, including sexting. Yes it is uncomfortable and awkward. Undoubtedly part of you will feel that your child is ‘too young’ to be exposed to such issues. Sadly if you do not educate them someone else will. Or they will turn to unfiltered sources on the Internet or their peer group for answers.
2. Never assume “it’ll never happen to them”
Be careful not to simply assume ‘my son/daughter’ would never do that. Peer pressure in particular can be immensely powerful. We can all remember the pressure to ‘fit in’ at school and sexting is now just another way for young people to experience that pressure. Just as many parents assumed incorrectly that their children would never drink alcohol under age or take drugs, the same must apply to these emerging issues.
3. Talk about the emotional and legal implications of sexting
Discuss the risks associated with sexting and revenge porn. Encourage them to think about how they would feel if an image of them was shared at school/ amongst their circle of friends. Ask them to consider whether the hurt and embarrassment of this happening is worth taking the risk in the first place.
It is important also to be clear about the legal implications of, for example, exchanging explicit images. Many 15 and 16 year olds today will be unaware that possessing explicit images of their boyfriend/girlfriend is illegal. The law is clear on this matter and it still applies even if the individual in possession of the image(s) is over 18 but their partner is not.
4. Do they know who they are sharing with online?
Talk about the importance of really knowing who they are sharing information with online. That goes for personal information about them as much as images. Again it will be a difficult subject to handle but it is important to talk openly and honestly about issues like grooming, sexual exploitation and paedophilia.
5. Give them someone to talk to
Specifically in terms of who the child can talk to about such issues. It may be that speaking to mum or dad regularly about these issues is too uncomfortable. In that case look for a suitable substitute like a trusted member of the family or an older cousin/family friend. It is critical however that they are fully aware of your perspective, educated about the risks and perhaps even able to offer cautionary stories from their own peer group.
Overarching all of these practical tips is a core belief about what makes a good relationship. As a society we want to give our children the understanding that a loving relationship does not require or depend upon the sharing of explicit content. We want to be instilling in them the belief that a good relationship is built upon self-respect and a respect and care for each other. Not the fear, power and control that can come from sharing explicit images.
My child has been sexting
If your child has been involved in sexting or sexting that has resulted in revenge porn/ threat of revenge porn, there is lots of additional advice online.
Young Scot, the NSPCC and ChildLine offer good online resources. Information includes how to get images removed if they have been shared on social network sites like Facebook or Twitter. Plus further advice on keeping children safe online.
*Sexting can also be known as ‘pic for pic’, ‘dirties’, ‘sending nudes’ or ‘trading nudes’.