It’s time to talk to your tweens and teens about “sexting”

By Sabrina Almeida

Sexting (a combination of “sex” and “texting”) is defined as an act of sending “sexually explicit” material i.e. video, photos or texts via a mobile phone. Not many teens and underage youth understand that there is a fine line between sexting and child pornography which makes it illegal. Both sending and receiving them.
What parents need to acknowledge is that sexting is real and a growing trend among elementary and secondary students. It’s time to have that talk with your kids about what and how much they know as well as the perils of engaging in this dangerous act. sexting

It’s never goes away

Sexting has reached such alarming proportions that police both in Canada and the United States are encouraging parents to keep the dialogue going.
Many South Asian (and immigrant) parents are oblivious to or refuse to acknowledge that sexting exists. Some even believe that their children are above it. The kids themselves will tell you otherwise. US
statistics reveal—forty per cent of teenagers have indulged in some form of sexting or the other. Although there are no official numbers for Canada, it is probably in close range.
An online article in Psychology Today points out that while many teenagers acknowledge that it is wrong to do it, most go ahead anyways because they believe they won’t get caught. That’s extremely dangerous.
Sexting has more than one grave consequence. Being pulled up the authorities might seem less worrying than when sexually explicit messages reach unintended sources. There is nothing to stop a boy or girl from forwarding it on to friends as a joke or as revenge, as many a jilted or spurned lover has done.
Some sexters openly admit to be coerced into sending explicit photos. Why? In the hope of “hooking up”, increasing their popularity or “fitting in”. They believe it is harmless when compared to engaging in the sexual act itself. Not so when it ends up in the hands of child pornographers or a future employer. Electronic memory is difficult to erase and everything is out there and for anyone to find. As the authors of the NCPTUP/ (2008) study noted, “There is no changing your mind in cyberspace – anything you send or post will never truly go away”.

The child pornography implications

The onus is not only on the senders alone. Receivers of these texts, photos and videos from teens and tweens will do well to remember the child pornography implications.
While the primary objective of this law is to protect children and teens under age 18 from being exploited and harmed by adults through the creation and distribution of child pornography, sending nude photos of teens under age 18 over an electronic device is, technically speaking, a criminal offense.
While they might be intended for a “special person” and such messages between two people might not invoke harsh penalties, rarely are they kept between the sender and receiver? More importantly, as developmental psychologists point out, relationships at this age rarely last.

Cyberbullying risks

Ever heard of cyberbullying or Internet harassment? Sexting puts your kids at the front and centre of it. A fact that Dr. Andrea Slane, Associate Professor of Legal Studies, University of Ontario Institute
of Technology attests to in a blog on the subject. She says, “Police have not prosecuted teens for consensual sexting in Canada. However, there have been several reported cases of teens being prosecuted
for child pornography offences where the sexual images were distributed more broadly, especially where there is clearly malicious intent.”
Also, with the introduction of Bill C-13 in March 9, 2015, non-consensual distribution of intimate images not just of people under 18, but rather anyone is a criminal act.
There is more than one teenager who has attempted suicide over sexually explicit pictures, even one is too many. As Justice Minister Peter MacKay pointed out at the official announcement, “You press a
button on your cellphone…you literally could be contributing to the death of another person.”
Traditional cultural and moral values can often cause teens to express their sexuality (and rebellion) through sexting which is more covert. How the fear of repercussions went things turn sour can drive
them to do the unthinkable.

Sexting tips

The best way to prevent such things from happening is to acknowledge their existence, discuss them before hand and keep the lines of communication open.

  • Tell your kids not to take or send explicit pictures of themselves or anyone else. It is criminal, emotionally damaging and stays online forever. In many cases kids are acting under peer pressure. By preempting this you can help them make the right choices when the time comes.
  • Monitor their online activities. Tell them to be vigilant at all times. Reiterate safe Internet practises. Encourage them to talk about their friends and relationships. Be a good listener and read between the lines. Make them feel comfortable enough to come to you with a problem.
  • Don’t put your child on a pedestal, worst still be in denial about situations or trouble they can get into.
  • Don’t go off the deep end and ban them from socializing or the Internet or police their every move either. Unrealistic expectations and authoritarian parenting practices can have unhealthy and dangerous consequences.

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