What Single Moms Need to Know About Sexting

By Dr. Susan Bartell

sextingDo you know what sexting is? If your child has a cell phone (or will have one at any time in the future) you should know what it is and how to talk to your child about it!

What is sexting?

Sexting is sending a sexually suggestive text message picture of oneself to someone else. There is some controversy about whether the rate of sexting is increasing amongst teens, but in my experience—working with hundreds of teens and their parents every year—it certainly seems to be on the rise! Sexting has become a problem with teens and young adults because of the ease and anonymity with which they can share a form of physical intimacy, without having to actually be intimate. In addition, most teens are more comfortable with electronic communication than with almost any other form of contact, so they usually do not recognize the potentially ruinous implications of sexting.

The way sexting can devastate a teen’s life

In the majority of cases, a teen girl sends a nude or semi-nude picture of herself to her boyfriend—whom she trusts to keep it private (because he’s sworn to do so, and at the time probably means it). However, at some point he shares the picture with his best friend who promises not to share it—but does; or the relationship turns bad, at which point he sends the picture to others maliciously. In either instance, the picture can travel around the school, the town and across the internet literally within hours.

When a teen sends a compromising photo, she (or less frequently, he) usually can not anticipate the possibility of a future break-up or trust being violated, or this devastating viral effect. As frustrating as it may be to adults, many teens do not yet have the cognitive ability to anticipate this far into the future (especially if they are in love!)

How can you tell if your teen will sext?

You can’t! Any teen can become tempted to send a nude or semi-nude picture if she believes she is in an intimate relationship. In fact, some teens will send suggestive photos in order to get a boy’s attention before they are in a relationship. In many cases (but not all), teenage girls feel pressured by a boy to sext. Much as a boy might pressure a girl to engage in sexual activity, he might ask her to send photos of herself—suggesting that if she really cares for him she would do it. Any girl can become vulnerable to this type of pressure. In fact, any boy can become vulnerable–through peer pressure from his friends–to ask a girl to sext. This is why all parents need to speak to all teens (and older preteens) about sexting.

What should you say?

To begin, keep a lookout for situations, TV shows, or news items about sexting. Use these as a chance to talk about it with your child. Don’t wait for your child to send, ask for, or receive pictures—this is too late! When your child has a cell phone, and is beginning it show an interest in the opposite sex, it is time to start talking about it. But one conversation isn’t enough—you will need to have ‘booster’ chats as your child gets older. Include the following four points:

  1. Sending sexual pictures to a minor is illegal and in some states teens have been charged criminally for sending pictures of themselves or others.
  2. Tell your child that once a picture has been sent, they can NEVER get it back—there will be a naked picture of them in other people’s phones and online forever—be graphic and concrete to make your point!
  3. Talk about peer pressure—no matter how much someone asks you to send a nude picture and promises he’ll keep it private (or tells you that it’s cool to get your girlfriend to send a picture), don’t do it! Remind your child that anyone who says the relationship depends on them sexting, is not worth being with. www.thatsnotcool.com is a terrific website that very effectively addresses serious preteen/teen cell phone issues like sexting and text stalking. Send your child there and check it out yourself.
  4. Be clear that if your child receives a sexual picture she/he should never forward it to anyone and should delete it. Remind your child that forwarding such pictures is a crime. An adult should also be told (your child can request anonymity), so that the child in the picture and her family can have a chance to deal with the problem as soon as possible.

Dr. Susan Bartell is America’s #1 Family Psychologist. Her latest book is Dr. Susan’s Fit and Fun Family Action Plan. You can learn more about her on her website at www.drsusanbartell.com

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More Articles and Advice for Single Moms:

Ask Dr. Susan Bartell: My Child’s Acting Out

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The Lowdown on Kids and Sex