A recent news article reported that a survey of 2,700 secondary school students found that the number of students who engage in “sexting” has doubled from last year. There were also news reports on the dangers of meeting strangers online, which surfaced concerns about our youth's safety on the internet.
"Sexting" is when people exchange nude photos of themselves on their phones. This is the type of story that makes parents shudder. Parents need to understand the impact sexting can have on our kids and their brains.
Young people are especially vulnerable to the hookup culture and a casual view of sex. Many youths have been exposed to pornography from a very early age and aren’t given the chance to learn what is good, healthy and wholesome - so they end up navigating their sexuality without a trusted guide.
How can a parent prevent their children from sexting and adopting an unhealthy view toward sex?
Here are four things you might find helpful:
1. Provide children and teens with clear boundaries around technology use
The culture will tell you it's no big deal for a teen to have full access to a smartphone or that they need "privacy" from their parents.
But it is important to be mindful that a smartphone is a virtual "loaded weapon" to a young person brimming with curiosity and hormones, and easily susceptible to peer pressure.
During the teenage years, a teen may have difficulty picturing long-term consequences, so they have less of a "braking system" when excitement and arousal occurs. This rush causes a surge of dopamine, a neurotransmitter, in the brain that in turn causes the teen to get "hooked" on sexting and pursue further risks in this area.
Parents can help their children avoid this chain reaction by limiting and filtering their children's access to smartphones and the Internet. For example, you can require them to leave their phone in your room overnight so you can review the content daily and also help your teen avoid the temptation of texting or sexting in the late night or early hours of the morning. There are also parental controls that help moms and dads limit their teen’s texting and monitor their phone use.
2. Stay up-to-date with trends
One way students can hide their sexually explicit images from their parents and teachers is by using secret "photo vault" apps. Some of these apps can disguise their real functions. For instance, one app can look and function as a calculator, but if the user enters the right password, all the hidden photos and videos would appear. It is a good idea for parents to review every app their child downloads.
Another way kids hide their online actions from parents is through the use of Internet acronyms. While we might know "LOL" means "laughing out loud," most moms and dads don't realize "GNOC" means "get naked on camera" or "PIR" means "parent in room." If you happen to spot such acronyms on your child's phone, it should warrant some following up.
3. Be the one who teaches your kids about sex
Protecting your child from the dangers of technology is important, but the best protection parents can provide their children is a solid healthy worldview when it comes to sex and sexuality. Give your children a whole-person view of sexuality that includes the body, mind and character.
Teach them important truths that will help them know both what to think and how to think about sexuality. Help them understand that they deserve dignity and respect as valued individuals and to see and treat others the same way. Guide them to understand that their actions have consequences, and these consequences affect not only themselves but also others on many levels, in terms of their interpersonal relationships, character development, psychological growth, health effects, etc.
4. Teach your child how to reason and think
Don't just teach your child about sexuality, ask questions that get him or her to think and apply their own mental reasoning and brakes. Beyond just handing them the answers and telling them to follow the rules, use current events in the news as opportunities to ask questions and help them think through the consequences of their choices.
The news reports mentioned at the start of this post could serve as good conversation platforms with your child on sexuality and internet safety.
The important job of educating and teaching our kids how to think should be part of an ongoing conversation we are having with our children. If we as parents can be consistent positive influences in our children's lives, then they will not only learn how to trust and honour us, but they would also know how to relate to themselves and others in a healthy and respectful manner.
Adapted from “Four Ways Parents Can Protect Their Kids from Sexting” by Jim Daly © 2015 All rights reserved. Used by permission.
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