Most parents know it’s important to protect their kids from sexting, but most parents aren’t quite sure what the conversations should look like, especially with preteens and young teens. It’s hard to imagine your child who hasn’t completed puberty or started to date needing to understand how to respond if someone asks them for a sext.
Nonetheless, because two out of every three girls ages 12-18 have been asked for one, it’s a conversation you can’t not have. Especially because 22% of teen girls have sent or posted a nude or semi-nude photo or video of themselves (11% between ages 13-16), and 18% of teen boys have done the same.
How do you help guide your child to make wise digital choices and avoid sending or posting an image or video they can’t take back? Start the dialogue earlier than you think you should, and consider including these seven conversations in your digital parenting strategy.
7 Conversations to Help Protect Your Kid From Sexting
Preventing a kid from sending a nude doesn’t begin with talking about sending nudes. It begins long before then — when they are just learning to understand that photos can be sent — and continues well beyond the day they get their first device.
1. Digital is forever and public. Period. End of story.
There is truly no foolproof way to ensure something is deleted after it is sent from one device to another. Four popular ways images and videos are captured and could be made public or saved permanently:
- Saving to a device (expected)
- Screenshotting an image or recording the screen while a video is playing (expected)
- Using one device to take a photo or video of the screen of another device (not quite as expected)
- Mirroring what is on the screen of one device to another and then doing one of the three listed above (not quite as expected).
Once an image or video is digitally sent or posted, there is never a way to truly know that it won’t be saved forever, shared publicly, or sent to others.
Create opportunities for your kids to learn by allowing them to interact with safe people (like family and family friends) as practice on your devices. Show them the photos you are sending and posting and even talk about a photo you wouldn’t post or share and why.
2. Don’t send or post any digital images or videos that you wouldn’t want your dad to see.
Most kids wouldn’t want a picture of them sneezing in the yearbook, but if their dad saw that same picture, it wouldn’t make showing up to a family dinner too embarrassing. A kid’s dad seeing them posing explicitly, in minimal clothing or nude, however, would be horrifying.
Therefore, remind your kid that if it’s an image they wouldn’t want their dad to see, they shouldn’t share or post it digitally.
3. Don’t send or post a digital image or video in an outfit that you wouldn’t wear to school.
Kids probably wouldn’t show up to math class in a bikini, half-dressed, or in underwear, so sending photos clothed (or not clothed) like that is not OK.
Preteens and young teens are still concrete thinkers so having distinct boundaries can be helpful. This is a great filtering question for them to ask before sending an image or video.
4. Ask your kids who they want to be.
This one is tricky for young teens and preteens because their idea of a long-term consequence is being grounded for two weeks instead of one. Talk about the reputation they want to have in their school and in the future. Talk about how sending photos can hurt that.
5. Empower them with the freedom to choose.
Most girls will feel like they don’t have a choice. If they send a photo, they are a slut. If they don’t send a photo, they are a prude. Neither feels like a good option. Remind them that the person asking isn’t going to flaunt rejection, and if they fail to send a photo, they’ll probably leave them alone. It is their choice about how they respond. They are in control of the situation and can decide how to respond.
6. Give them a script.
Have your kids save ideas of how to respond to a sext request somewhere on their device to copy and paste when asked. It’s easier to come up with these ahead of time than in the moment. Ask them for ideas, and help them put thoughts into their own words.
7. Don’t apologize.
Remind them that they should never apologize for not complying with a photo request. They will have done nothing wrong, and apologies are for when someone needs forgiveness. The person asking may pressure them and respond as if they are doing something wrong by not sending the photo. That is simply untrue. Not sending a sext when asked for one is not worthy of an apology. Remind your kids, especially your daughters, not to apologize for not sending a sext.