Sexting Scandal: What Parents Should Do if Their Teen is Sexting
Last week, authorities in Cañon City, Colorado began investigating widespread sharing of nude pictures at a high school, which reportedly involved half the football team. The school district announced it had learned, through anonymous tips, that “a number of our students have engaged in behavior where they take and pass along pictures of themselves that expose private parts of their bodies or their undergarments.” The Cañon City Police Department is trying to determine whether adults were involved, or if any of the students were coerced into taking the pictures. Regardless of whether adults were involved or not, the city’s District Attorney stated that having nude pictures of minors could be considered child pornography — regardless of whether the picture is of oneself or someone else. This scandal has shocked the nation, and it provides valuable lessons to parents of teens.
What is Sexting?
Sexting, which is a word play for “sex texting,” is sending or receiving images, messages, or video that is sexually explicit or sexually suggestive via a cellphone or the Internet. Sexting includes sending nude or nearly nude photos, messages that propose sex or refer to sex acts, or videos that show nudity or sexually suggestive material. Teenage sexuality has changed significantly in the digital age, and smartphones, tablets and computers have made it easy for teens to take things too far.
How Do You Know if Your Teen is Sexting?
Sexting is unfortunately considerably more prevalent among youth than you might expect. If you would like to learn more about the statistics from studies on teen sexting, please read our previous blog: “Study Finds Majority of Minors Engage in Sexting.”
If you would like to learn more about prevention, please read out previous blog: “How to Prevent Teens from Sexting.”
If you suspect your teen might have a problem with viewing pornography or sexting, the most important thing you can do is to check up on your child. While your teen might object that checking their phone or other electronics is an invasion of their privacy, remember that this is your child, and you have the right and responsibility to care for his/her welfare. You have the right to check the phone and computer, just like you have the right to look at your child’s grades or medical records. It is part of your role in keeping your teen safe.
What You Should Do if You Discover Your Teen IS Sexting
If you have checked your teen’s electronics and discovered that your teen is sexting, then follow these steps:
Consider the Potential Consequences
While it may feel awkward, you cannot ignore this problem. You must address the issue right away because sexting can result in several unwanted consequences:
- First, you must discover who has been sending or receiving the messages or images. If it is an adult, the behavior will likely only intensify, and your teen’s safety is in danger. If an adult has requested or sent sexually explicit content, it is a crime, and you should contact the police.
- Second, regardless of whether an adult was involved, if your teen is in possession of sexually explicit content, most states consider it child pornography, and there are harsh consequences, including fines, probation, incarceration, and registration as a sex offender. Any of these consequences can have a significant impact on your teen’s future. Deleting photos or messages could be considered tampering with evidence, if police are later involved in the situation. You should probably consult with an attorney about how to proceed. You can check out the laws in your state: http://im.about.com/od/sexting/United_States_Sexting_Laws.htm
- Finally, sexts can also damage a teen’s reputation. Messages, pictures and videos can be used by others in a variety of harmful ways, including blackmail and cyberbullying. In addition, if the sexts are shared in a public forum, potential colleges or employers may see the images later in life. Determine who has possession of the sexts and, based on that, decide how best to proceed. In blackmail or cyberbullying cases, you can contact the police. In other situations, you might want to consult with a digital expert.
Don’t Share the Pictures
It is understandable to feel angry at your teen and at the person with whom they are sexting. While you might want to send the photo to the parents of the other teen, do not share the photos! Sending any sexual photo, regardless of your intent, could make you liable for sending child pornography. Never share any sexually explicit content of a minor under any circumstances.
Additionally, try to focus on preventing your teen’s behavior in the future, rather than embarrassing them by looking at all of the photos and/or messages. Embarrassing them will damage your relationship and make it harder to get your teen to cooperate with you.
Set Limits and Give Consequences
The most important thing a parent can do in this situation is to provide a consequence for the behavior and set limits for future behavior. This is a teaching opportunity, so do not be afraid to ground your teen from social media and electronics for a significant amount of time (at least one week, but not more than one month, for a first offense). Your teen might act like they are dying without electronics, but they will be fine. Your teen must understand that electronics are a privilege that will be taken away if misused.
In addition, you should express your disapproval of sexting and make your expectations for future behavior clear. Monitor your teen’s internet and smartphone use. Let your teen know that you will be conducting random checks, and then, follow through. Do not allow any electronics in your teen’s bedroom and create a “curfew” – no electronics after a certain time each evening. Finally, set up parental controls on all of your teen’s electronic devices. There are many software programs that can help you monitor your teen’s activity. Many phone service providers offer several options, such as limiting calls or texts, blocking certain numbers, blocking calls/texts after a certain time at night, or providing you a text telling you what numbers your teen has called or texted.
Keep Communication Open
Once you’ve established the consequence, be sure to have some good discussions about boundaries, dating, sex and social media. Do not lecture, but ask open-ended questions to hear your teen’s views on important subjects like sexuality, relationships, and healthy choices. Additionally, it is important to try to determine why your teen wanted to sext in the first place. Find out the root of the problem – was it peer pressure, lack of confidence, mere curiosity? Address the real issue.
Although parents generally cringe at the thought of talking to their teens about sex, it is incredibly important that you explain and set expectations about sexting as soon as your child has a cell phone. The best way to prevent your teen from using their cell phone for sexting is to check up on your teen after jointly agreeing to the rules in a written cell phone contract.