Sexting and Online Safety

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Sexting is the sending of suggestive pictures, videos, and/or messages via phone or any other electronic device. Sometimes parents think that monitoring their child’s electronic devices might be showing distrust of the child and might harm their relationship.

“Become familiar with parental monitoring options and monitor desktops, laptops, tablets, cell phones, and video game consoles that have online connectivity. A caregiver [parent] has a responsibility to protect youth,” says the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. “You are not spying.”

NCTSN recommends that you talk often to your child about online safety and that you always monitor their use of electronics. Be respectful, they say, but set boundaries that you can check on and enforce. Ask them to show you how their apps and programs “work.” And emphasize over and over that if your child gets into any uncomfortable or unsafe situation, he or she can come to you and you will respond without blame and with help and resources.

Here are ten things you might not know about online sexual safety, courtesy of NCTSN:

1)  Over 90 percent of all children play video games. Many allow a player to communicate with other players. Warn your child not to assume that they are chatting with another child. It may be an adult impersonating a child to begin a sexual relationship; and children and teens should never give their real names or any other personal or location information.

2)  Electronic devices often contain geotagging or “location services” that automatically reveal the physical location of the user. Parents should make sure this is disabled on all devices used by a child.

3)  Updates on computers and other electronic devices can sometimes return privacy settings to a lower “default” level. Make sure privacy settings are on the highest possible level at all times.

4) Teach your children to treat passwords like they would treat house keys:  nobody but family should use them. In addition, roleplay with them situations in which someone would try to get them to reveal the names of family members, schools, names, addresses, phone numbers, parents’ employment, or any other identifying information. Screen names should not make your child identifiable, either.

5) Sexting an image is a permanent act. Over half of all sexts are forwarded. Although the sender might delete it from his or her device, once it is downloaded by anyone else it can be forwarded by anyone and to anyone, including future partners, employers, universities or government entities or even porn sites. Texts that a sender might think was private are also fair game—and over 15% of teens say they have had “private” chats made public.

6)  Sexual images and messages are often used by jilted boyfriends and girlfriends and others to exact what is called “revenge porn.” It is often a component in online bullying.

7)  Many state laws make it illegal to post or send messages that intend to hurt, insult, ridicule or damage the reputation of another person. Any sexual image of a person under the age of 17 may be considered child pornography, even if the person depicted posted the image.

8)  In Pennsylvania and Florida, teens who sent naked pictures of themselves to each other have been arrested and charged with a felony.

9)  There can be legal consequences for forwarding the sexts of another person.

10) There can be legal consequences for the parent of a youth who sexts.

Since 1992, Dr. Robinson has worked in a variety counseling positions. She is also a popular author and speaker on topics ranging from childhood development and sexuality, teen issues, family dynamics including caring for elderly relatives, and church resources for families.

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