How to reduce your child’s chances of sexting: Lessons from Research

Recently I wrote about a research study that suggested that we look at sexting in a new framework.  Not as a legal issue but as part of the new “normal” teen emancipation.  Not only did this study provide data to support this theory, it also brought forth some suggestions for reducing sexting in teens based on their outcomes.

Teens were less likely to sext if they were not responsible for paying their own phone bill, if they had less peer interactions and if their family used texting as a means of communication.  The authors suggested two potential routes for reducing exposure to sexting.  The first, reducing a teens peer interaction via text.  In reality, this is not a viable option.  Teens today communicate via text.  They text infinitely more than they talk on the phone, email and sometimes even interact face to face.  Trying to keep a child away from texting could possibly result in social consequences for the child.

Research also indicates that explicit restriction or simply not allowing a teen to text is not effective.  Instead of simply restricting access, there are other options.  The first lesson we can glean from this research is that teens are less likely to engage in risky behaviors such as sex, drinking, drug use, violence and skipping school, if their parents monitor their whereabouts and social activity.  This, very simply, means that parents have to be involved in their children’s lives.  They need to know where their children are going and be active participants in their lives.  They need to know their children’s friends and activities.  This can be done via mobile technology with monitoring devices and new apps emerging that allow you to track your child’s every movement in the world and keystroke on a device.  My preference is for actual involvement and communication.  Installing these apps, particularly without your child’s knowledge fosters an environment of secrets and home brewed espionage.  A transparency policy allows your child to start the emancipation process and work to build the parents trust.

Another option, supported by the research, is for parents to be active users of technology and texters themselves.  Adding communication via text to the family’s arsenal of communication tools appears to have a protective value against exposure to sexting.  If the family uses the technology, texting, as a family resource and an accepted means of communication, this integrates the technology into the family norm.  This use of texting as communication between parents and their children is useful to help decrease exposure to sexting, particularly receiving a sext.

There is also an added benefit of parents integrating texting into their communication with their children.  Research has shown that when parents and teens communicate via mobile technology, family bonds are strengthened.

This may seem like a “if you can’t beat them join them” attitude and may, in fact, be true.  As digital immigrants, we cannot force digital natives into thinking or acting like we did as kids or do as adults.  They were not brought up in our culture.  If we wish to effectively communicate and interact with digital natives in a manner that is meaningful to them, we need to work to integrate their technology seamlessly into our own lives.  This doesn’t mean that you have to become a person who exclusively communicates via text with your children.  The point is that if you integrate texting with your child, for communication and NOT control, you are not only strengthening your relationship, you may be reducing their chances of sexting.

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