Sexting - How to Educate Your Teens as Co-Parents
KARI COOK, March 25, 2019
It’s tough talking to your tweens and teens about things like safe sexting, and even more so if you and your ex aren’t exactly talking to one another, don’t share the same principles or simply aren’t educated on the subject of safe sexting.
With that being said, the first step in educating your teen on sexting is to educate yourself.
- Read current research about teen sexting in today’s tech savvy and social media driven world. Here is a great Ted Talk by Devorah Heitner on this subject.
- Know the apps and social media accounts your teen uses and become familiar with how they work. Popular apps today are Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Telegram and WhatsApp.
- Research the statistics and laws regarding sexting and be aware that in some jurisdictions sexting among teens is considered child pornography here is a good resource from the American Bar Association with more detail on this.
SETTING PRINCIPLES AND AN ACTION PLAN
Once your co-parent and you have fully educated yourselves on the subject of sexting, next establish the same set of principles and boundaries each of you will enforce with your teen. If communicating with your ex is an issue and you need help with this, be sure to check out Civil Communicator co-parenting tools here. But if you are ready to create your safe sexting action plan, keep some of these common mistakes in mind.
NO SEXTING POLICY
A strict “no sexting” policy is not educating your teens about the risks associated with texting and will not necessarily prevent them from sexting because statistics tell us that 1/3 of all 16 and 17 year olds continue to sext when they are simply told not to sext (Hasinoff 2018).
Instead, teach your teens about the laws and risks associated with sexting. Let them know that someone they trust could violate their privacy by sharing images they had expected to keep private, and teach them ways to protect themselves from this happening.
Some good tips here are to crop out faces in images, use apps where photos disappear and cannot be saved, and also listen to your instincts, refrain from being bullied, pressured or coerced into doing anything you are not comfortable with and that is not consensual.
This safe sexting education may seem like you are permitting your teen to sext, so be clear that you don’t agree or like these behaviors from your teen, but that because you know most teens experiment and do things despite their parents wishes, you would like them to be educated on how to be safe and protect themselves as well as the other teens involved.
Labeling sexting as “slutty” is a common mistake. It’s easy to let your emotions run away with you when you find out your teen is sexting and immediately feel like this behavior is slutty and shameful. But, keep in mind that educating teens about sexting is just like sex ed, which means it should be about the facts, realistic, non-shaming, accurate and compassionate (Hasinoff 2018). The goal is to teach safe and ethical practices.
Therefore, labeling this behavior as slutty and shaming teens who participate in it could perpetuate negative, shameful feelings about the expression of sexuality and sex which could carry into young adulthood and possibly affect intimate relationships in later years.
So, instead of labeling sexting between two teens in a consensual relationship as slutty, teach your teens about healthy intimacy, safe sex, and that expression of sexuality in a committed relationship is all about trust, consent, love and respect. Help them understand how violating it is when someone you trust shares sexual images without consent, as well as potentially illegal for both parties involved. And lastly, encourage empathy and support for victims whom this has happened to.
SPYING AND BANING
Spying on your teens, searching through their phones, and trying to monitor their every move on social media is not practical. Not practical most obviously because you can’t possibly keep up with 24-7 spying and monitoring, especially when your teens are under your ex’s supervision, but even more so because spying will first and foremost violate their trust.
Trust is the foundation of all healthy relationships and violating this in addition to privacy will not solve any problems, but more likely will encourage your teen to hide things from you and cover up their mistakes as opposed to learning from them.
So, instead of spying on your teen, encourage them to come to you with any mistakes or problems, big or small. Let them know you are here to help guide them through these difficult teenage years, and that if they end up in a problematic situation due to sexting, you want to know about it right away so that together you can help resolve the problem.
START WITH THESE QUESTIONS
If even after reading these common mistakes, you are still not sure where to start when it comes to educating your teen on safe sexting, ask them these questions from the author of Sexting Panic and Communication Professor Amy Hasinoff (2015).
- Do you think sexual images of people your age should be illegal?
- How do you think someone would feel if you shared a private image they sent you? What could happen to them if their friends, teachers, and family members saw it?
- What kind of images are likely to cause problems if someone distributes them? Does a person’s gender make a difference? Is that fair?
- If you want an image to be private, what’s the best way to make sure your recipient knows?
- How do you know if an image you receive is intended to be private or if it’s ok to pass on to your friends?
If any of these questions or conversations with your teens or your ex are not progressing in an effective and civil manner at this point, reach out to one of our professionals at Civil Communicator. Our tools can help mediate conflict and keep your communication civil at all times. It’s our goal to reduce the stress of communication and promote conflict free co-parenting, so you can focus on what is best for your children and get back to living life happy.
Bookman, P. & Williams, A. D. (2018). American Bar Association – A Closer Look at Teen Sexting in the Digital Age. Retrieved from https://www.americanbar.org/groups/young_lawyers/publications/tyl/topics/criminal-law/a-closer-look-teen-sexting-the-digital-age/
Hasinoff, A. A. (2018). Tips for parents and educators. Retrieved from https://amyhasinoff.wordpress.com/tips-for-parents-educators/
Hasinoff, A. A. (2015). Sexting Panic. Retrieved from www.amazon.com
Heitner, D. (2014). The Challenges of Raising a Digital Native. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRQdAOrqvGg#action=share
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