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My Teen is Sexting: What Can I Do?

If you’re the mom of a tween or teen and you’re not sure what ‘Sexting’ is it’s time to play catch up. Sexting (the sending of sexually explicit messages or images by cell phone) is a reality that’s here to stay – it’s even included in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

According to one study, 84 percent of Americans over the age of 12 own a cell phone with 31 percent owning smartphone. 15-18 year olds spend an average of 1 hour and 51 minutes each day just sending text messages. Kids between 11 and 14 spend an average of 1 hour and 13 minutes texting.

Teen Sexting

Surprising? If you’re parenting a teen, maybe not – but factor in Sexting and it gives the picture a whole new spin:

A Pew Internet study on teens and sexting conservatively estimated that 4% of cell-owning teens ages 12-17 have sent a “sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude” photo or video of themselves while 8% of 17-year-olds have engaged in sexting.

Another estimate from the National Campaign survey says 20% of teens ages 13-19 have posted or sent a nude or semi-nude image of themselves. 33% of young adults ages 20-26 have also reportedly engaged in sexting.

Polls show that 24%-28% of teenagers are sending nude photos.

Of course, numbers can’t fully illustrate the real-world implications of sexting – where our teens, pressured to measure up, show off, or catch up to their peers are then ostracized by those same peers for exposing themselves and in some cases prosecuted for distributing distributing child pornography.

The fallout from teen sexting can’t be measured accurately, but what we do know as moms is that cell phones and the internet have created two massive problems for our teenage children:

1. Teens are constantly connected to their friends and social life through technology and, therefore, don’t have much-needed moments where they can withdraw from the drama and influence of their peers.

2. Technology creates numerous easy opportunities for even the smartest teenagers to engage in high-risk behaviors.

What can you do as a parent to protect your teen from the dangers of sexting?

In a world where our kids are constantly bombarded by pressure from their peers, society, and the media, teens need a safe space where they can escape from the drama, anxiety, and risk of their increasingly difficult, high-visibility, and peer-pressured lives. That space looks different for every teen – maybe it’s an after-school art program, or being involved in a sport they love. Maybe it’s a regularly scheduled afternoon lunch with mom, or another trusted adult who can add stability and calm to their otherwise hectic life. Maybe it’s volunteering at a cause they care about. Or maybe it’s just having the space to be alone, and quiet – without the interruption of text messages and social media.

The real problem with social media and cell phones is that they effectively destroy those necessary spaces and the problem with teens is that they don’t know how to create their own limitations. As a parent, that’s your job.

The solution is pretty simple, actually: don’t let the technology take over. Put your kids first, your family first and institute and exercise a policy for cell phone use for your teen. Talk to your teen about what your concerns are. Keep the lines of communication open. Let your teen know you’ll be monitoring their text messages – you can utilize your cell phone company’s safety and limiting features to ensure your limits are being met.

Ultimately, your teen may rebel against these limits, and it can be hard to stand your ground. But when you look at the sheer numbers of kids who are experimenting with sex in this new way, utilizing technology to explore that type of relationship, it’s a wake up call we all need to accept.

More sexting tips and resources for moms:
Sexting Statistics – What Do the Surveys Say?

Cyberbullying Research Center Sexting Fact Sheet

Over the Line – A virtual sounding board to help teens measure if what they would text or email is something they would say or do in person.

A Thin Line Digital Abuse Interactive Quiz

And don’t forget, you can discuss your own concerns and questions around sexting in the Moms Fight Back forum.


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