What is sexting ?
Sexting generally refers to the sending of sexually explicit images via text, email, MSN or through social networking sites. For example, this could be a picture of a boy or young man exposing himself or a young woman in a state of undress.
There could be many reasons why young people would want to take these sorts of pictures and send them to someone else. It could be that two young people who are in a relationship want to prove their love or commitment to each other; it could be that someone is looking to start a relationship with someone else or it could be that they simply want to show off.
Most young people today are entirely comfortable with recording their entire lives online – much like other generations used to do in a diary.
These days though, this often includes uploading and sharing photos, status messages on what has been happening in their lives or how they are feeling, and texting back and for. While this ‘finger on the pulse, share all’ culture has some benefits, it can also create an environment in which teenagers and young people make impulsive decisions without thinking through the possible consequences. Often times, they are only a click away from doing something digitally that they would not normally do in the real world.
While sending sexually explicit messages or pictures carries enough problems of its own, it can have real consequences if the content is shared with others – either by people forwarding it on, using messages or emails or by uploading it onto a social networking site or website.
This could result in immediate consequences, possibly within the school environment, or more serious consequences for later in life such as if a prospective college, university or employer were to see it.
Talk to your children about sexting and the consequences – don’t wait for something to happen. We know it isn’t always easy to talk about sex, dating and relationships with teenagers – but it is better to talk about these issues before something happens.
Remind your children that once an image is sent, there is no getting it back. Stress to your child that once they have sent an image, or posted it online, they no longer have control of it and it could end up anywhere. Ask them how they would feel if their teachers, parents, or their whole school saw what they had sent. What goes online, stay’s online forever!
Address peer pressure. Peer pressure can be a formidable force so make sure your child knows that you understand that they could be pushed into sending something. Talk to them about making positive decisions and be sure they understand that no matter how great the pressure becomes, the potential social humiliation could be a hundred times worse. Also let them know that they can talk to you about this pressure and how they can go about dealing with it.
Make sure they take responsibility. Make sure your child understands that they are responsible for their actions. That includes what they choose to do if they receive a sexually explicit photo. Have them understand that if they do receive one, they need to delete it immediately. Tell them that if they do send it on, they’re distributing pornography — and that they could get into trouble with the Gardai.