Sex and Sexting: Talk About It with Your Kids Early and Often
I think most parents would agree that talking about sex and sexting with your child – regardless of the age – can be awkward. It may be tempting to put off the conversation as long as possible. However, it’s important to start addressing sexual development and behaviors at an early age, even as young as preschool.
I recommend discussing ‘sex’ with your preschooler at an age-appropriate level. Then continue the conversation as the years progress. This is a great way to lay the groundwork for the more complex but related subjects, like sexting, later in life. But what is age appropriate, and what should those conversations sound like? Here are some suggestions to start the discussion with your kids:
Tips for Talking About Sex and Sexting With Your Kids
Young children should learn accurate names for their body parts. Preschool-aged children are not too young to learn about “safe” and “unsafe” touches. Teach your child the appropriate ways for him to touch others and for others to touch him. Make sure she understands which body parts are private and off limits. Quick hugs and high-fives are okay. Touching in private areas is not. Your preschooler can be taught that it’s okay to say “no” if someone asks him to do things that are wrong, such as touching private parts or keeping secrets from parents.
For elementary-aged children, reinforce with your child that he is in control of his body. Give him some words to use if he feels like he’s been touched in a way he doesn’t like. And be sure to mention that if he ever encounters a situation which makes him uncomfortable, even if it involves someone that he knows, he can talk to you or another trusted adult about it. Provide explanations about personal boundaries, including the importance of keeping private parts covered and not showing them to others. Set boundaries within the family – everyone has a right to privacy when bathing and getting dressed.
Middle School and High School
This is a very broad age bracket, but it is important to speak with this group of pre-teens and teens about their personal relationships, electronic devices, and sexting.
Parents should help their teens think about their own personal boundaries, and what to do when they’re not being respected. What does he feel comfortable and uncomfortable doing with someone else? It’s perfectly okay to say no, and his or her partner needs to respect those boundaries. Help your teen devise a plan when she feels like these boundaries are being violated.
As related to electronic devices, parents should set ground rules before handing them over. Transparency is key. Tell your child how you will be monitoring her device and social media accounts. That way she won’t feel like you’re spying on her. Having a cell phone or tablet is a privilege and monitoring is a condition for keeping it.
Sexting should be included in the conversation about appropriate use of electronic devices.
From the discussions I’ve had with some teens in clinic, it is apparent that many are not fully aware of the ramifications of sexting. Here are some main points to discuss with your teen:
- It is illegal to take, send, or have in your possession a nude photo of a minor. This is regardless of the age of the offender.
- Some states, including Ohio, do not have sexting laws. This means that if a minor is caught creating, distributing or possessing a sexually explicit image of a minor, he or she could be prosecuted under child porn laws. If convicted, he or she would have to register as a juvenile sex offender.
- Pictures never really go away. Even some social apps like Snapchat, which claim to delete the conversation, have loopholes. For instance, a teen could take a screen shot of the image before the app deletes it. And even if the file has been deleted from the phone, the photo may remain on the application’s server.
- Colleges and employers commonly do thorough online searches and could discover any incriminating information.
- Sexting can be associated with many unwanted consequences. Examples include bullying and cyberbullying, unwanted attention, decreased self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and having unprotected sex and pregnancy.
- Help them to feel empowered to say no when someone asks them to take pictures of themselves. Just because someone has requested it does not mean that they have to send one. And on the flip side, it is unacceptable for your teen to ask someone to send this type of picture.
Open Communication May Help Future Conversations
I can’t stress enough how important it is to have conversations with your child about sex early and often. Having open lines of communication will help your children feel comfortable bringing you any issues they’re having in the future.
For more information about how to talk to your children and teens about sexual issues, visit the National Child Traumatic Stress Network or at Stop It Now. And the National Society for the Prevention of Child Cruelty is a great resource for parents to learn more about sexting, how to prevent it, and what to do if you realize your child has engaged in sexting.