Your teen is more connected to technology now than ever before. They are also just as curious about sex as ever before. Sexting is basically a precursor for kids who are wanting to explore their sexuality but are not actually ready for the act itself yet. A study of more than 110,000 kids referenced in the New York Times showed that 14.8% had sent sexts, 27.4% had received sexts, 12% had forwarded a sext without consent, 8.4% had a sext of them forwarded without their consent. While those numbers may sound a little low and ease some concern, they still demonstrate that sexting is a growing trend among teenagers, and one that demands attention.
The average age of cell phone ownership is 10.3 years old – if they have a phone, you need to be talking about sexting, possibly even before they get the phone. If there are younger kids, try talking in more absolute rules: don’t accept candy from strangers, don’t send any pictures without clothes, if someone sends you a picture with no clothes tell us right away, etc. The older your child, the more explicit you can be about the possible dangers of sexting. Some concepts that your child should know about sexting include that it: can constitute child pornography, can lead to sexual bullying, can open the door to sexual predators, puts teens at risk for blackmail, will never go away, and it can ruin your reputation.
However, it doesn't need to be quite so scary. While parents tend to address the worst possible scenarios when it comes to sexting, they fail to address the more common emotional dilemmas that teens face, i.e. what if someone asks you for a nude, what if they pressure you, who do you turn to, etc.? According to an article in the NY Times, the most effective thing for a parent to say is, “Once you send a photo you can never control it again.” It goes to further and urges parents to “make a point to address [sexting] early and often.”
There are some resources that can help you address these topics with your child. Common Sense Media has a guidebook made for teens about sexting. There’s also a site called That's Not Cool with games and examples of how to take the topic of sexting into your own hands, whether you are the teen or the uncomfortable parent who doesn’t know how to address sexting with your teen. And Huffington Post put out an article that very well depicts reasons to rethink sexting, and points out the double standard between boys and girls sexting.