No-Sexting Strategies for Parents of Teens
The term sexting has been around since about 2005, but it doesn’t come out of the mouths of teens. Newspaper headlines, worried parents, and frowning, finger-wagging teachers use it. Kids refer to the naked selfies as Nudes.
No matter what we call them, exchanging nude or semi-nude digital photos is a bad idea. And like lots of bad ideas, sexting oozes that appealing air of risk that draws some adolescents in.
“Why? Why would a kid send a nude photo?” Most adults don’t get it. Lots of young people see sexting as “the new flirting” or just “innocent” fun. Some do it on a dare or under pressure; others simply send nudes for the adrenaline rush that follows being bold and bad. Sadly, some girls see it as a step towards attention, greater popularity and acceptance—or even a warped pathway to celebrity status. Sometimes sending unsolicited photos of naked bits is a bad-taste laddish joke designed to upset or offend.
Sending nudes can lead to some awful outcomes. Imagine if:
- The photos are shared on social media
- The pics end up in the hands of seedy predator groups
- A relationship breaks down and the ex wants to hurt the other with “revenge porn”
- The recipient is offended and presses charges
Going Viral, Feeling Sick
Once the photo is transmitted, the sender loses control over it. He or she can’t stop people from sharing, posting, tagging, downloading, photoshopping, commenting, or worse. According to a European study carried out by UK Internet Watch Foundation, up to 88% of self-generated images have been collected and posted on “parasite websites.”
Full-Frontal Legal Nightmare
It’s a criminal offence in Australia to transmit sexually explicit photos of children—even self-generated photos. This means that many young people who want help with dealing with a nude photo they regret sharing won’t seek it for fear of getting in big legal trouble.
An Australian government brochure called So You Got Naked Online explains:
“While it can be a crime to take and share sexual images of people under 18, the police don’t usually prosecute if there is no harm to those involved. You may get in trouble with the law if you have deliberately shared a photo or video of someone without their consent, especially if you meant to embarrass or humiliate them.”
The laws and their consequences are clearly not deterring young people from engaging in sexting, so it’s down to education at home and school. Teens today often say their parents aren’t addressing sexual issues. Modern parents may feel overwhelmed and out of touch with all of the technological innovation. And many schools’ programs are woeful, leaving students let down and uninformed. Sex education should be whole-person-centred, free from agendas, and it must include media literacy and critical thinking skills.
Here are two no-sexting strategies parents can implement to educate and equip their kids. One is literature, the other an app…naturally.
The Power of Story
Sometimes, all our well-intended talk is ignored. At the first mention of cybersafety, eyes glaze over, earbuds go in, and the adolescent shield against parental concern shoots up. What do we do then? Where cyber-education ends, stories can begin to inform, warn, and equip young people. Cautionary tales are a powerful tool in the arsenal of parents as they seek to help their kids stay safe.
Read articles and watch clips together about teens whose lives go haywire after a sexting problem. Give them fiction books to read—never underestimate the power of narrative to change thinking and develop skills. Here are two well-written, *non-preachy YA fiction titles, suitable for older readers. (N.B., Obviously, the subject matter in these books is mature and not squeaky-clean. Vet them against your family’s values before recommending.)
Thousand Words by award-winning YA author Jennifer Brown tells the story of a girl caught in the aftermath of a sexting scandal.
Risk by author Fleur Ferris, a former police officer and paramedic in Australia. Risk is about the dangers of meeting up with someone you met online.
* Non-preachy is a crucial quality. Many teenagers have zero tolerance for anything patronising.
There’s an App for That…
Young people may really want to say no to requests for nudes, but they are so worried about not fitting in or being rejected that they cave in. This is a real problem. Leave it to the Ontario Provincial Police, obviously a forward-thinking lot, who have devised an app called Send This Instead to help kids who feel caught between peer pressure and morals.
Inspector Scott Naylor, manager of the Child Exploitation Unit of the Ontario Provincial Police, explains, “Until now, anti-sexting campaigns have focused on warning kids about the dangers of sending explicit pictures of themselves. But it isn’t working; we need a new strategy.”
From their website: “We asked all the funny people we knew, ‘What would you say if someone asked you to send images you didn’t want to?’ We took their answers and made posters and developed this app. The posters are witty, sarcastic, and meant to help get the point across – using humor as a strategy.”
Send This Instead provides a collection of posters—images with witty repartee. Instead of texting a reply with, “No, loser,” your teen can say “No” with a cleverly captioned image. The humour helps the sender feel better about refusing. It’s a super idea. Here are a few of the clever images that come with the app.
Go Canada! You Rock!
Get the app and share it with your teen. It’s a fun way to open up a conversation about sexting and equip them to make good choices. Check out the Send This Instead website here, or download the iOS app or GooglePlay app.