Sexting Among Kids Is Bigger Than Ever—and Often Illegal. Here’s How to Talk to Your Child.

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Lauren Angema was in sixth grade when a boy asked her to send him a nude photo of herself. It was something like If you love me, send me this, Ms. said. Anjema, now 18. While social isolation and device use skyrocketed during the pandemic, the sharing of naked selfies and other sexually explicit messages among teens and young adults has only gotten worse, according to digital media experts. Bark, an online security service that parents and schools can pay to monitor children’s devices, found that the average daily volume of sexual text messages from children increased by about 37% from pre-pandemic levels, from 0.51% of all activity in July 2019 to 0.7% in May 2021. In 2018, the journal JAMA Pediatrics published a meta-analysis on sexting – sending photos, videos, or messages of a sexual nature – which found that one in seven teens send sexting, one in four receive sexting, and one in eight send sexting to the person in the photos without their consent. Several teens I spoke with said that sharing nude photos had become a requirement for dating, and that girls felt pressured to send photos. The consequences of retrieving, sharing and possessing nude photos of minors can range from reputational damage to criminal prosecution. In many states, it is illegal to have such photos on your phone, even if the exchange was by mutual consent. A study published in 2019 found that more than three times as many girls as boys felt pressured and twice as many girls as boys were asked to send sexts. Sheri Madigan, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Calgary and author of a 2018 meta-analysis, conducted an unpublished analysis that showed a shift toward more sexting among girls than boys. This raises the issue of consent, says Dr Madigan. Are girls getting more and more unwanted sexual messages from boys? word-image-5980

Many teenage girls receive unsolicited nude photos from a boy they may or may not know and demand that they return them.

Photo: Getty Images It’s one thing when teens of the same age in a relationship agree to share photos – child development experts say it can even be a normal part of relationships between older teens, even though many parents disapprove. But it’s different when teens get photos they don’t want or feel pressured to share their nude photos. Sometimes teens use a photo to blackmail another teenager with increasingly explicit photos, or they post them as revenge after a relationship breakup or other fight. The man sends a picture of himself and says: It’s your turn, but you didn’t ask for it, says Ms Anjema from Ontario, Canada. She said that during high school, senior year and college, she regularly received requests for nudity from male classmates and from strangers on social media. Girls never ask boys for nude pictures. It’s always unwelcome, she said. Sexting can also have long-lasting effects on teens’ emerging self-esteem and their idea of what constitutes a healthy relationship. Vivi Myrick, a 17-year-old singer and social media personality from Marion, Arkansas, said she has been asked to expose herself at least once a week since she was 14. Sometimes it’s guys she knows, and sometimes it’s strangers who follow her on TikTok. They usually just ask me: Naked? She said. It hurt me a lot, and I’m a person who can stand up and say I don’t. Most girls think guys want them just for their bodies. It made me feel even more vulnerable. Every time someone asks me, I say: Do all the boys look at me like that? Her advice to other girls: Stop paying attention to the guys who ask. Lock them up. Think about who gets to see these pictures, she said. You don’t want your father to see naked pictures of you.

What you can do

So how can parents talk to their kids about sexting? Start the conversation early. When your children are very young, for example. B. 10 and under, you can start talking about what a healthy relationship looks like, what consent means, and how to be a good citizen in a digital world without even talking about sexting. They can talk more specifically about sexting when they are older. Make it about someone else. If you have seen or heard an article in the press about a minor accused of possessing child pornography, please take the opportunity to raise the issue. In nearly half of the states, minors who engage in sexting can be prosecuted and registered as sex offenders. Perform scenario planning. Dr. Madigan suggests playing a game with children, asking them what they would do if they received a sexually explicit message or if someone encouraged them to share that message. It’s best to do this well in advance so kids have a basis for possible scenarios, she says. Part of this plan should be to remind them that they can contact you if this happens. You and your child can also discuss how to say no. Representing a request with humor is one way, experts say, to make kids feel better. START, a digital health nonprofit, has published some suggestions on how to do this, such as B. Respond to a request with a photo of a nude statue. Calm down. If you hear your child asking for or sharing nude photos, try to regain your composure before the conversation. Take a deep breath and say: Thanks for coming, let’s figure it out together, Dr. Madigan said. If you overreact, they will be embarrassed and less likely to contact you in the future. What if your child hadn’t come to you at all and you had found out some other way? Instead of saying: What were you thinking? You can ask more open-ended questions, such as B. Help me understand how you felt, says Hina Talib, a specialist in child and adolescent medicine at Montefiore Children’s Hospital in New York. You can then explain why the decision was wrong and determine what the consequences should be. Appoint a proxy.  If you don’t have a good relationship with your teen or the conversation isn’t working, you can suggest that they talk about sexting with another adult with whom they feel comfortable. You want them to have the conversation themselves, and if they say it’s not possible with you, it should be someone else they trust who can guide them, but not a peer, says Dr. Madigan. Erase, erase, erase. If you discover that your children have nude photos of themselves or other minors on their phones, you should explain to them that these photos must be deleted immediately. In some states, even possession of naked selfies can be considered child pornography.


Have you talked to your kids about the dangers of sexting? Which strategies have worked best? Join the discussion below. Even all this may not be enough to stop sexting. The pressure to please teenagers can override their common sense. Ms. Anjema noted that the request not to share photos is often directed to girls, and that more needs to be done to discourage boys from asking for photos. My parents always told me and my friends not to do this; we had workshops in school when social media was just starting to emerge, and we had meetings in high school about online safety and not sharing photos, she says. But every girl I know has done it, and every boy I know has asked. For more family and technology columns, tips, and answers to your most pressing family technology questions, sign up for my weekly newsletter. Email Julie Jargon at [email protected]. Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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