To most teens, “sexting” is a normal way to interact with their peers. Most parents have no idea how prevalent it is and how to talk to them about it. I will give you the real talking points to have a difficult but important discussion with your teenager.

Rachel’s finger nervously hovered over the send button. She stared down at the picture she took for Jeremy, her first real boyfriend, debating if she should send it. In the 6th grade, it seemed like all the popular girls were “hooking up” with boys. Rachel was trying to fit in, and Jeremy was so cute. All of her friends said she was lucky to be “going with him.” The night after they officially declared they were dating, Jeremy sent a text. “Send me a picture of you [winking face emoji].” Rachel replied, “What kind of picture?” Jeremy said, “In your underwear … Just for us [heart emoji].”  Rachel knew of three other girls who had sent “nudes” to their boyfriends and even boasted about it later. She thought It’s not such a big deal, right? Rachel took off her shirt, stood in front of the mirror, and took a picture just for Jeremy. Her finger hovered over the send button an extra moment until she told herself, don’t be such a baby. She pressed her thumb down on the send button, a decision she could never take back.

I wish Rachel’s story were unique. It is not. I have sat across the table from too many Rachels and their male equivalents. Boys are just as likely to sext as girls, and they are just as likely to be damaged by it.

What is “Sexting?”

Sexting is the electronic exchange of sexually suggestive or explicit content in messages, photographs, or videos, between at least two people.

To most teens, “sexting” is a normal way to interact with their peers. I have asked thousands of teens in my cyber safety presentations about their perceptions of sexting. The general belief is that “everybody is doing it,” especially when you’re “going out with” someone.

How Do I Talk With My Child About Sexting?

As always, remain calm and don’t lecture. When I was on the Hostage Negotiation Team for my police agency, I learned a powerful technique that I used to gain understanding and compliance from those who may not be interested in complying – ask questions and be a good active listener. Your tone should denote a desire to know what your child thinks.

Try asking:

• Why do some kids sext? How big of a deal is it?

• Are there safer ways to show someone that you trust and care about them?

• Do you think a photo posted on the internet will remain private and anonymous forever?

• How could that kind of image affect you or your future?

Your discussion’s ultimate goal is to change the way your child thinks about sexting and to have them consider the long-term consequences of their behavior. In the emotionally charged moment when a teen chooses to take and send a nude picture, they may not be able to pause and consider the consequences. We know talking to children about making good choices makes a difference, so don’t give up.

The following are topics you should cover when you are talking to your teen about sexting.

Sexting Could Be a Crime

Nude or partially nude images of minors can be a crime. They might be considered child pornography.

A Sent Image Belongs to Everyone

Begin by discussing with your child that you can never get the image back once it is sent. The image is out there forever, and you have no control over what happens to it.

Talk about pressures to send or ask for revealing pictures.

Let your child know there might come a time when someone asks them for an intimate image. Tell them that no matter how significant the social pressure is, the potential social humiliation can be hundreds of times worse.

Don’t forward inappropriate images.

Your child might get an unsolicited sext sent to them. It is very common for students to receive these accompanied with a message like, “Can you believe this is Jenny?” or “I just got this forwarded to me, did you get it too?” Talk to your teen about this possibility and what they should do if it ever happens to them.

Reputation Consequences

I received an email from a recent college graduate who was applying for jobs and internships. She was anxious and hopeful to start the next chapter of her life in a career she was passionate about. She had promising interviews but was receiving rejection emails. She learned that a Google search of her name revealed a website that had a nude photo of her. This was a photo she had given her now ex-boyfriend when they were still dating. She contacted the website and demanded they remove the image. They offered to remove the picture for $5000. She asked me if law enforcement could help. The website was hosted in another country. United States laws could not help her get the photo removed.

We live in a world where most college scholarship committees and businesses check their applicants’ public social media or Google search results. The long-term potential risks are real. It is worth considering the likelihood that an image will not remain private.

This is an abridged excerpt from Clayton Cranford’s updated book, Parenting in the Digital World (Third Edition). To learn more about how to talk to your child about sexting, predators, bullying, pornography, and how to make all of your child’s devices safe with the latest parental control settings, get Clayton’s eBook or the paperback at Amazon.

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