I recently read a newspaper headline that read, ‘Parents are more worried about their children sexting than taking alcohol or drugs’. This struck me as both interesting and puzzling. It is relatively easy to work out whether your teen is drinking or taking drugs but how do you know whether they are sexting?
‘Hi Emily, how was your evening darling?’
‘My homework was fairly easy dad and I spent the rest of the evening sending naked pictures of myself to my boyfriend’.
‘Right well, couldn’t you do something more productive with your time ?’
The point about sexting is that it’s done in private and the chances are, as a parent, you aren’t going to find out about it until the damage has been done.
This raises another one of those modern day parenting dilemmas thrown at us by the new technological world. A technological revolution that is presenting us with any number of parenting dilemmas that we haven’t a clue how to deal with.
The first thing you need to do is talk about the sexting to your teen. Sexting is essentially a relationship issue in the sense that one person may be trying to pressure another into doing something they don’t necessarily want to do. They need guidance and reassurance about how to manage such situations should they arise. This is especially true if your teenager is lacking confidence.
What about the practicalities? For a start your child needs a smartphone. So the first question that needs thinking about is why your child needs a smartphone? I fully recognize that it’s a ‘must have’ fashion accessory for an adolescent but does that automatically mean they should have one? There may be any number of reasons why you might want them to have one but it’s worth giving the issue some thought.
Ok so you’ve decided that they need a smartphone for whatever reason, next question is do you allow them to have a password or not? This is a subject that in my experience causes all manner of arguments.
‘You’re invading my privacy’
‘You’re so intrusive’
‘You’re stalking me’. So it goes on.
Let’s turn the question around, why would they need a password? What is it they are going to be doing on it that they don’t want you to know about?
Imagine your 14 year old daughter coming to you and telling you she is going out but is not going to tell you where. At the very least you would raise an eyebrow and I imagine any caring parent would say no and would insist on knowing where she is going. Most of the parents I have seen are mindful of their teenagers’ safety but are ambivalent at best about their sojourns into cyber space. If I ask them what their teens do on their computers and phones, what sites they visit, they usually tell me that they haven’t a clue.
This is the background to thinking about of whether they should have a password or not. If they don’t have a password they are less likely to engage in nefarious online behaviour because they risk being caught. I don’t for one minute think this idea will be welcomed by your son or daughter but as you are probably paying for the phone they don’t have much choice other than to kick up a storm.
This brings us to a second area of controversy, should you as a family have a time in the evening when handheld devices like phones are handed in until the next morning? This should not be seen as a sort of punishment but more as necessary respite from the relentless intrusion of technology into family life. If they are speaking to their friends at school all day, they aren’t going to suffer social exclusion if they are off line for a few hours in the evenings, although they are, of course, going to tell you differently. Have time offline also has the benefit of cutting down the time they have when they could be engaging in sexting.
It is true that neither of these suggestions is going to stop a determined teenager from sexting but they do enable you to limit the opportunity for it.