How to Keep Teens Away From Sexting

The more teens use technology, the greater the chances of its misuse. Sexting is a perfect example of not just the wrong use of technology, but also of landing oneself in a problem.

By Arun Sharma

How to Keep Teens Away From Sexting

7 northwest Iowa teens arrested in sexting case, police say — Des Moines Register (14 Feb 2018)

Teenage girl faces child pornography charges for sending explicit selfie over Snapchat — The Independent (24 December 2017)

One in seven teens are ‘sexting,’ says new research — The Conversation (27 Feb 2018)

These are just a few of the several headlines appearing across newspapers worldwide. In India, we are yet to come across such news reports; however, the day may not be far away, as teens have taken to texting in a big way. Quite a few of them engage in texting almost all the time – at the dining table, sitting in the classroom, watching a movie, talking with parents, before falling asleep and so on. In fact, some teens go beyond the acceptable norms of texting and begin sexting.

So, what exactly is sexting?

On its website, NHS Choices defines sexting as, “ ‘Sexting’ is when people send sexual messages – sometimes together with photos or videos (also known as nude or semi-nude selfies) – by text, an app or online.”

Are there any specific laws in India that deal with sexting?

How to Keep Teens Away From Sexting

Legal consequences for teens against whom a complaint has been registered for sexting

How to Keep Teens Away From Sexting

What are the factors that make teens indulge in sexting?

While no excuse can be accepted for indulging in the misadventure of sexting, there are a number of reasons why some teens fall for it. 

One of the top reasons is the peer pressure to become sexually active. Researchers Walrave et al published a study titled, ‘Under pressure to sext? Applying the theory of planned behaviour to adolescent sexting’, in the journal Behaviour & Information Technology. This study found that, “friends and romantic partners represent the most important sources of social pressure.” Teens were more likely to sext those in whom they had complete trust, and friends and romantic partners were those who elicited complete trust.

Also, hormone-mediated sexual arousal and attraction towards members of the opposite sex, as well as the refusal to say ‘No’ when sexted are two other major reasons.

How to Keep Teens Away From Sexting

Common signs that your teen may be sexting

While there are no specific signs to identify the habit of sexting, here are some behaviours that should raise concern in parents:

  • Teen becomes overly protective of his cell phone
  • Sends and reads messages in privacy
  • Gets agitated when told about odd phone usage habits
  • Shows a drop in academic performance
  • Exhibits changes in behaviour
  • Increase in cell phone bills
  • Uses codes to store names in contact list
  • Withdraws from friends and family

What you should do to keep your teen away from sexting

The adage ‘Prevention is better than cure’ works well always and in all situations. So, instead of confronting your teen about her habit of sexting and worrying about the consequences, here’s what you can do to prevent the habit from taking root in her.

  • Educate: As a parent, prepare your teen to take up the responsibility of her own safety and make her understand the consequences of sexting. To do this, sit down with your child to have an open and informative conversation about what sexting is and its consequences, and that pornography can have legal repercussions. But, while you do this, make sure that you adopt a nonconfrontational approach.
  • Observe: As mentioned earlier, there are a number of factors that can induce a child into sexting. Watch out for signs of unusual or suggestive behaviours and take action when you have even the slightest suspicion. For, sexting can have serious consequences.
  • Set limits: Create rules for the use of cell phones – for example, no usage at certain times such as mealtimes or in certain areas like the bedroom. You can also make the rule like keeping the phone charger in your possession – this will prevent your teen from using her phone excessively. And, while you create rules, also come up with consequences for breaking the rules. Be firm when it comes to enforcing rules and consequences.
  • Update yourself: Most teens have the ability to master any new technology in a very short span of time and use it to their advantage. So, try to keep yourself abreast of the apps or codes teens mostly use for sexting. You can also install apps in your teen’s phone which can alert you to the possibility of your child engaging in sexting.
  • Encourage good behaviour: Tell your child that while caring is all about sharing, this isn’t the case when it comes to sexting. To make your point, ask your teen questions like, “How would you feel if your teachers and friends come across your explicit messages and photographs?”
  • Distinguish love from lust: Teach your child the difference between love and lust to make him understand that sexting isn’t about love at all. This will prevent him from giving in to pressure to share any messages or photographs which can prove damaging to his reputation.

Also, while you keep your teen’s phone use in check, remember that sexting is not just limited to sending explicit text messages and photos on smartphones. In fact, sexting can be done through means by which media can be shared such as email or web chat. And, while it may look like innocuous indulgence of an inexperienced young individual, it isn’t so. For, it can have negative legal and social consequences.

*Dr Debarati Halder is the Honorary Managing Director of the Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling (www.cybervictims.org). She is also working as Professor & Head of the Department of Research, Unitedworld School of Law, Karnavati University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat. She can be reached at ccvcindia@gmail.com

*Arundhati Swamy is a counsellor and the Head of Parent Engagement Programs at ParentCircle.

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