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“A friend asked me for a nude photo,” my fifteen-year-old daughter told me one night.

“He what?!” I whispered struggling to grasp onto a rational thought.

I knew this friend.  In this case, it was a boy who had been in my home. The realization that my daughter had a friend that would make such a request of her was shocking to me! I had heard these stories from friends or read about them on the internet. I naively tucked myself into a false reality where these “friends” did not exist in our lives.  Yet they did.

A study done in 2014 by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that sexting behavior (both photo and text messages) was not uncommon among middle school youth.  According to the Law Enforcement Bulletin, juvenile sexting is increasing in frequency with 20 percent of teenagers (22 percent of girls and 18 percent of boys) admitting to sending naked or seminude images of themselves or posting them online. A survey done amongst teens indicated that nearly one in six teens between the ages of 12 and 17 who own cell phones has received naked or nearly nude pictures via text message from someone they know.

The impacts of sexting can be lasting and far-reaching.  Instances of sexting have ended in youth suicide, juvenile court charges, or harassment among peers. Sometimes charges or sex offender registration requirements will follow youth into their adult years.  Even employers and colleges have reversed decisions due to pictures posted by candidates.

To help youth understand the impacts of sexting parents and caregivers should discuss sexting with early adolescents.  This can be an uncomfortable topic to approach with your teens.  Let me be blunt in saying- get over it! This is a conversation that parents must have with their kids. Approach it honestly and openly with your youth.  Ask them what their experience or friends experiences have been with sexting.  We can learn so much from just listening to our kids, and as we listen, teaching opportunities present themselves. 

Remind your teens that not everyone is sexting! The pressure to send a flirty text may be increased if they feel like they are the only one not sending nude pictures.  The statistics say 20 percent of teens, while that statistic may be higher than we want as parents, it is not every teen.  Let your teen know that 80 percent of their peers are not engaging in this behavior, and they are not alone when they say no. 

Make your teens aware of the consequences of sending these types of photos. They could get kicked off of sports teams, face humiliation, lose educational opportunities, and even get in trouble with the law. If a picture is forwarded to someone underage, the original sender is responsible for the image.  The sender may face child pornography charges, jail time, or have to register as a sex offender. 

Help your teens understand that after they hit “send” they no longer have control over where their pictures end up. The boyfriend or girlfriend they share it with can easily share it with their friends, and their friends with their friends, and on and on. . .  Encourage your teens to not take images of themselves that they would not want everyone to see.

When teens receive or are shown a nude or inappropriate photo encourage them to tell a parent, teacher or a trusted adult.  Helping them to have a plan when they encounter these situations will help them know how to respond appropriately.

As a parent or caregiver if a teen approaches you with a nude photo they’ve sent themselves or received from someone else, take a deep breath.  It is important to keep lines of communication open. Reacting too harshly or overacting can hinder future communication with your teen about tough subjects.

Although I was concerned about the request my daughter had received after we talked I appreciated the opportunity it created to have a conversation about sexting. The conversation carried over into discussions with my other children, coworkers and friends.  She shared with me what she had done to respond to the request; saying no and blocking the friend from her social media.

For more tips on tackling tough technology conversations with your kids visit The American Academy of Pediatrics.

Sources:

Ohio House Updates “Sexting” Law Related To Minors: Majority Caucus: The Ohio House of Representatives. (2018) http://www.ohiohouse.gov/republicans/press/ohio-house-updates-sexting-law-related-to-minors

Sexting: Risky Actions and Overreactions. (2010). https://leb.fbi.gov/articles/featured-articles/sexting-risky-actions-and-overreactions

Talking to Kids and Teens About Social Media and Sexting -Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics. (2013)

https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/news-features-and-safety-tips/Pages/Talking-to-Kids-and-Teens-About-Social-Media-and-Sexting.aspx

Sexting and sexual behavior in at-risk adolescents.(2014) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3904272/

Written by: Alisha Barton, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Miami County

barton.345@osu.edu

Reviewed by: Lorrissa Dunfee Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Belmont County

Dunfee.54@osu.edu

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