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Monday, April 17, 2017

Sexting - How to Keep Your Kids Safe

Online safetyOver the last year, I have received numerous questions about sexting - whether sexting is harmful, normal, legal, or a gateway to sexual activity. Here's a blog post about sexting so you can keep your kids (and yourself) safe.

What is sexting?
Sexting is the sending and receiving of nude, semi-nude, or even sexually explicit messages by phone, tablet, and via the Internet. It can be as seemingly innocent as, “I just got out of the shower” or “I can’t get enough of you” to a sexually provocative nude image or video.

Do youth really sext?
Studies vary, but an article in the American Journal of Sex Education, reported that 17% of adolescents engaged in sexting, while a study published in Pediatrics, reported 15%. 

Why do youth sext?
On the one hand, sexting is a form of sexual expression. Youth sext to explore their sexual feelings, show affection or flirt with someone they are dating or want to date. Some teens also see sexting as a form of “safe sex” because there is no risk of STD’s (sexually transmitted diseases) or pregnancy. On the other hand, sexting can also be the result of peer pressure, bullying and threats, or a regretful impulse under the influence of drugs or alcohol. There are also instances where adults are soliciting images from teens – i.e., child sexual abuse.

Is sexting harmful?
Sexting has social, emotional, behavioral, and even legal consequences. Adolescents can get caught up in the excitement of sexting and not realize the unintended consequences. Once the photo is sent, the sender has no control about what happens next and the image may be shared further by cell phone, social media, or via a website – and worse yet, used to bully or harm someone.

Believe it or not, sexted images can also end up in pornography portfolios. For instance, a teen receives a nude or semi-nude photo and someone in their own family, with ill intentions, takes and shares it. Or a teen sends a nude or semi-nude photo to another teen; someone in the second teen’s family is involved in child porn and takes the image off of the teen’s phone; the photo is put into an online sharing program and is accessed and further shared by other child pornographers. This isn’t just hypothetical. This happens.

Does sexting lead to sexual activity?
More research is needed, but according to a study published in the July 2014 issue of Pediatrics (a publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics),middle school students who send or receive sexts were found to be more likely to be sexually active.
Is sexting illegal?
Yes, sexting is illegal. It’s considered child pornography and you and your children need to know this. Do not store or send sexually explicit or even suggestive photos of yourself, or anyone else.

Actual laws vary by state, but there have been cases of teens charged of sexting under child pornography laws and put on the sex offender list. If the photo goes across state lines, there could be a felony charge.

How can I prevent my child form sexting?
The minute your child starts using a smart phone, tablet, or computer, it’s time to talk about body-safety rules around safe phone use. Talk with your children about why it's not safe to take pictures of private parts (their own or others). Also talk about why it's not safe to look at pictures of people touching private parts. Let children know they can and should come tell you if they ever receive or see an image with private parts - and let them know that you won't be angry.
You can help keep your tweens and teens safe by talking proactively about body safety and sexting, and then playing what-if games. These games encourage youth to apply critical thinking and problem solving skills to potentially unsafe situations. Consider these “what if” scenarios for teens about sexting:
  • You buy a new lacy bra, take a photo of yourself wearing the bra and send it to a friend. Is this sexting?
  • You put on your new boxers, and you send the photo to the person you’re dating? Is this sexting? What might the consequences be?
  • You take a photo of yourself with no shirt on and send it to a friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend. Is this sexting? What might happen to this image once you click “send?”
  • You send a message to someone you have the hots for and say, “I want to be naked with you.” If and how could this be something you come to regret?
Of course, always let children and teens know you’ll be there for them, no matter what.

What if I discover that my child/teen has been sexted?
If your child/teen receives a nude photo on their phone, tablet, or computer, tell your child/teen not to respond and to delete the photo right away. Calmly talk with your child/teen and be as supportive as possible. Learn as much as you can about the situation: Find out if there have been other images, if you child/teen forwarded any of them, and what your child thinks about the possible motive. Discuss the emotional and legal impact, and remind your child/teen that you love them and are always there for them. If you are concerned about your child’s/teen's psychological well-being, get some help form a therapist.

What if I discover that my child/teen is sexting?
We all want to believe it's not our child/teen who's doing the texting, but sometimes it is. Should you discover that your child/teen is the one sexting, take a very deep breath and explore the following:

  • Discuss why your teen is sexting - e.g., is it about flirting or peer pressure?
  • Explore the emotional and legal consequences - i.e., sexting is illegal and can cause people to feel really lousy about themselves.
  • Discuss who they are sexting with, and how far the image(s) may have traveled.
  • Discuss whether your child is viewing porn as well.
  • Create a safety plan and get professional help as needed.
Should I contact the police?
This is a tricky matter because in alerting the police you may be incriminating your child or another child. If the photo comes from an unknown source, an adult or an older child – or if there are repetitive sexts as a form of bullying, then yes, take the images to the police. If it’s teen-on-teen sexting, you might prefer to talk with their parents. Alternately, you can call the CyberTipLine at 800-843-5678.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Is Your Child’s School Teaching Internet Safety?

You’ve heard me talk a lot about inviting schools onto your prevention team – that is, having conversations with principals, teachers, and other school personnel about body safety and keeping your children safe from child sexual abuse while in their care. 

Well, here’s another question you might ask, “What are you doing to teach children Internet safety?” Just like a school might teach children how to discern between news and fake news, schools should also be teaching kids about legal and illegal online contact, including sexting.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Please share this post.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Keeping Kids Safe Online – 10 Best Practices

Parenting Safe ChildrenWhile there are unique safety challenges specific to each form of technology, service, and app, here are ten general practices to support online safety.

  1. Keep your computer or tablet in a high-traffic area.
  2. Limit the sites your kids are allowed to visit, and for how long.
  3. Spend time with your children online and invite them to show you sites and activities they enjoy, including chat rooms and social networking.
  4. Don’t allow children to take their phones and tablets into the bedroom overnight.
  5. Resist the urge to purchase external web cams.
  6. Get to know your children’s online friends just as you would their in-person friends.
  7. Let children know that they have to “friend” you as a condition of using social media.
  8. Teach children not to share personal information (birth date, phone #, address, passwords)
  9. Ask your child to a sign “Safe Use” agreement – and don’t hesitate to revoke privileges if the “Safe Use” agreement is broken.
  10. Talk with other parents about your online safety practices and setting limits when kids are using devices together on play dates. 
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Please share this post.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

To Monitor Online Access – or Not

In the Parenting Safe Children Workshop, I talk about the importance of teaching your children body-safety rules and the equal importance of inviting caregivers onto your prevention team. Here are some examples of applying screening principles around online safety:

  • Screen the sites your children spend time on – and set limits.
  • Screen friend lists periodically, just as you would inquire about who your child is spending time with in the outside world.
  • Review personal information to make sure that your child’s profile and photos on social networking sites are appropriate. (Some parents require that their child friend a parent as a condition of social media use, so the parent can watch for safe use.)
Then it gets a little trickier, with a host of personal privacy decisions. Do you check your child’s text messages? Do you install parental control software to filter sites or obtain usage reports? These decisions are personal and will vary by family, but please remember two things:

  1. Whatever choice you make about filtering programs, no software can take the place of an actively involved parent; and
  2. If you are concerned or worried that your child ‘s safety is being comprised, then it is no longer a matter of privacy, but rather one of safety. If your child won’t talk with you, do what you need to do to protect your child, even if it means, for instance, checking his or her text messages.

If and how are you monitoring your child's online activities? What monitoring programs are you using?

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Please share this post.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Is Porn Bad for Kids?

Child Abuse Prevention Month
Take the Parenting Safe Children Online Safety Quiz

Guest Post by Annie Gardiner

I remember the first time I found a Playboy magazine. Wide-eyed, I turned the pages feeling both nervous and excited.

Teens look at porn out of curiosity, for stimulation, or to impress friends. It’s entirely normal for children to be interested in sex and viewing images is one way teens, particularly post-pubescent males, satisfy their sexual curiosity and urges.

But is online porn different?

I can say without hesitation that looking at an occasional Playboy or Penthouse as a teen didn’t harm me.  But today, in the world of online porn, it’s a whole other ball game.

Online porn comes in flavors that are detrimental. The prevalence of violent and illegal images is mind boggling, and these pictures send inappropriate and unrealistic messages about sex, sexuality, and gender roles. With millions of demeaning porn images swirling about the Internet, what are teens and young adults learning about what it means to be a sexual partner and what it means to have a consensual and respectful relationship?

I’m a realist, and I understand curiosity about sex is normal and teens will continue to view porn online, so perhaps the best question is, what are parents doing? 

According to some adolescent therapists, parents are sort of surprised to realize that their teen has become a sexual being and that parents aren’t sure how to navigate a conversation about pornography and healthy sexuality.

What do you think? What kinds of conversations are you having with your children / teens about online porn?

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Please share this post.