What BDSM Can Teach Us About Consent

Let's Talk: Consent | Her Campus

Consent is a hot button topic today.  The #metoo movement continues to grow and the supreme court nomination brought to light the suffering of many sexual abuse survivors.  The general public is starting to realize that we do not teach consent to our children

Those of us who work in the fields of sexuality (sex therapists, sex offender therapists, sex addiction therapists) have long known that there is a lack of education about consent.  We have moved from no means no to yes means yes but that still leaves a lot of grey area.  For instance, what happens when yes turns into no?

To help learn more about consent, I turn to what some might think is a strange source, the Kink community.  The BDSM community has a lot to teach the rest of us about the concept of consent.

While there are many aspects of the BDSM world, consent lies at the heart of these communities.  Here’s how:

Negotiation:

Critical to the BDSM community is negotiation.  People who are going to play (engage in BDSM) together spend a great deal of time ahead of time negotiating what will happen during the session.  These discussions about the sex practices that will or will not be engaged in during the session are often extensive.  Negotiations include what each participant’s limits are (what they will not engage in), what types of things they enjoy as well as the discussion of the safe word.

When two people engage in extensive negotiations before an interaction it removes the grey areas that can happen when there is not good communication.  There is no room for miscommunication because it has all been talked about ahead of time.

Safe Word:

The safe word is the word that is agreed upon ahead of time which, when invoked, means the behavior that is currently happening ends immediately.  This process of safe word shows that the BDSM community understands that consent is not a broad concept.  Consent is an ongoing process that can be revoked at any time during an interaction. Just because someone says yes to something initially, it does not mean theywant the behavior to continue.  Everyone’s experience of a sexual behavior is dependent on so many things.  What they might have enjoyed engaging in during one session may not feel good in another based on many things, not limited to mood, stress level, partner and environment.

Aftercare:

Aftercare is a concept that is not often talked about in traditional sexual encounters.  The BDSM community understands that these interactions can be emotionally and physically intense.  Aftercare takes this into consideration and involves physical and emotional support for the parties involved.  This can be physical, meaning food, water, etc. or emotional, such as cuddling, holding, stroking etc.  When both parties engage in aftercare it demonstrates a mutuality in the interaction.

Traditional sexual interactions among the non-Kink community normally do not involve any of these processes.  Traditionally, there is very little discussion about what behaviors are ok between two sexual partners.  Safe words are hardly ever employed and frequently, in our hook up culture, the after-sex behavior lacks emotional and physical nurturance.

I will end this post with a quote I heard at this years ATSA conference.  “We spend more time negotiating what we want on a pizza than we do negotiating sex.”

We have a lot to learn from the Kink community and if we employed some of their practices into our own sexual practices we would be having safer and more truly consensual sex.

Reference:  “Unorthodox Rules”:  The Instructive Potential of BDSM for Consent Law.  Bennett, T (2018) Journal of Positive Sexuality, 4(1), 4-11.

 

Dr. Jennifer Weeks is the owner and director of Sexual Addiction Treatment Services.  She is a clinician and expert witness working with sexual abuse, cybersex offenders and all types of problematic sexual behavior.

What Young Women’s Experiences with Sexting can tell us about Compliance, Coercion and Consent

The #MeToo movement has brought much needed attention to the experiences of women, of any age, of sexual abuse and harassment.  If you look behind the sensational headlines, the movement has sparked a much-needed conversation about consent.  I have previously written about how we teach consent in our practice in a blog on the topic.  The #METOO movement combined with some recent research published in the Sexuality Research and Social Policy journal can help us shed some light on how young women navigate sexuality and consent in the digital realm.

Dr. Sara Thomas recently published a research study in the journal of Sexuality Research and Social Policy that looked at how young women handled pressure to send them a nude or semi-nude photograph from a peer.  Dr. Thomas’ study analyzed stories from teenagers about their experiences of digital drama.  She then identified three main dilemmas that young women experience in relation to sexual photographs.  These were interpersonal negotiations, consequences and self-concept.  She then identified six different categories of behavior for how women were induced to send nude photographs.  These were desire, personal gain, asked, relational scripts, bombardment and coercion.

One of the first dilemmas faced by a young woman is the decision of whether to send a photograph.  The study found that 2/3 of young women reported that they engaged in this ongoing struggle to decide if they should send a picture, if so to whom and when should they do this.  When a woman decided to send a nude photograph, the motivations ranged from it being consensual to giving in to pressure or threats from the person asking for the picture.

The young women in this study knew that if they chose to send a nude picture there could be consequences.  These consequences ranged from the picture being seen by people they did not want to see (mass distribution) to social ostracism, rumor spreading, legal consequences, emotional distress and getting in trouble with parents.  The study found that the biggest concern was the possibility of the image being spread without consent.

Why do young women send nude or sexual photographs?  In this study, only 8% of the young women sent the photograph because they wanted to.  If they didn’t want to send the image, why did they?

Compliance:  The study found that many young women were sending nude images because they wanted to please the person asking for the image or because they wanted to avoid negative consequences from the young men that were asking for the images.  One of the troubling findings from the study was the tacit nature of the compliance by the young girls.  The young women justified the compliance by saying that they liked the young man who was asking for the image.

“..compliance was frequently accompanied by an assertion they liked the young man who requested them.  These stories did not express coercion by the asker, but they also did not express a desire to send them.  Rather the decision to send was a compliant “so I did” to a male-initiated request for a photograph.”

Coercion:  The majority of the women in the study experienced some form of coercion.  The level of this coercion ranged from milder “If you loved me” statements from the young man requesting the image to more intense forms coercion.  When a woman was unsure of sending an image, they reported feeling guilty that their partner questioned their love by not sending a nude image.

Many of the women had experiences of coercion that were more intense.  The study found that some young men pressured, threatened, got angry or cut off contact with the young woman in order to try to obtain nude images.  The women also experienced threats of blackmail.  Some of these women were blackmailed into sending more images after they sent a first image.  The blackmail threat was often that the images would be mass distributed.  The young women who experienced these situations didn’t feel like they had any options and that they had to send the images.

Can young women refuse?  The answer to this is yes.  In the study about 30% of the women refused to send a sexual image.  Of those 30%, 79% of those women faced consequences for not sending images.  Partners would get angry.  Relationships would end.  Based on the consequences, several of the young women reported they ended up sending images to the young man who requested them.  Only 12 women in this study refused to send nude images and did not experience any negative consequences for holding their boundary.

What does this study show us?  In this study, 25 of 314 young women engaged in sexting with a partner because they truly wanted to, and the experiences were devoid of compliance or coercion.  This means that most of these young women engaged in sexting that was truly without consent.  Their behavior was induced by compliance or coercion.

We, as parents, teachers, educators, need to do a better job at many things.  First, we need to teach all young people the true meaning of consent.  We need to empower young women to say “no” to coercion and to feel strong enough to not feel the need to comply to an unwanted request.  We need to give young women access to resources to help them make decisions about their sexuality.

The young women in this study did not seek adult help but turned to peers for advice.  They often cited fearing an adults’ response as why they didn’t talk to parents or another adult in their life.  As adults, we also need to create an environment where our children feel safe to come to us with their challenging dilemmas and we need to react calmly and lovingly.

Thomas, Sara.  (2017) “What do I do?”:  Young Women’s Reported Dilemmas with Nude Photographs.  Sexuality Research and Social Policy.

For more information on Dr. Weeks please check out our website www.sexualaddictiontreatmentservices.com

 

Three Things to Teach your Child About Safe Sexting

Sexting

If we choose to face reality, we know that teen sexting has become a normative part of adolescent culture.  Of course, not all adolescents are doing it, but many are sexting.  What we learned from the years of the “JUST SAY NO” campaign and more years of research is that preaching abstinence just doesn’t work.  If we want to protect children from the darker side of sexting, we need to educate and inform them about the practice, so they can make their own, hopefully well thought out, decisions.

What are the tenants of Safe Sexting?

  1. You are responsible for your own safety.
  2. Know the risk
  3. Know how to protect yourself

You are responsible for your own safety

 The digital world can be a risky place.  Aware parents will have talked to their children about online sexual activity and perhaps filtered or monitored devices such as phones or laptops.  However, no filter or monitor can truly protect a child from the risks of online sexual behavior.  Ultimately, your child is responsible for his or her own behavior online.  What they do or do not post, text, snap, etc.  is their own responsibility.

To help your child be more proactive about their online safety, here are some things to think about and talk to them about.  Before you send a picture or post, stop and count to ten.  Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I really want to send this picture or video?
  2. Do I feel pressured to take or send this image?
  3. Do I trust that the person I send this to will never share this image without my consent?

It is very true that many children, particularly girls, feel a great deal of pressure to participate in taking and sending sexual images.  There are also online predators who will groom, intimidate or threaten a young person to convince them to take pictures.  In these instances, there is no consent.  Coercion is never consent.

If your child chooses to engage in consensual sexting with a peer, they should truly want to take the image without feeling any pressure to do so.  They should also trust that, no matter what, the person they send the image to will not share the image.   If all of these parameters are met, then the sexting is consensual and if your child takes and sends an image, they are assuming responsibility for their actions.

Know the Risk

 Even in the case of consensual teen sexting there is a lot of risk.  In order to engage in safe sexting, the person doing it (adult or minor) needs to know the risk involved with the behavior.  So what are the risks?

Sexting as a minor may be illegal.  Every state has a different law regarding minors producing and sending illicit or sexual images.  The punishments for the behavior also vary from state to state.  In some cases, a child can be the producer and distributor of child pornography as well as the victim of the same crime.  Some states have decriminalized consensual sexting between two minors.  Know the law in your state and share that with your child.

Another risk is that someone you do not want to see your image may see your sexual image.  This is non-consensual sexting.  You may have sent a sexual image to someone with whom you are in a relationship.  This may have been consensual at the time.  Then, something goes wrong in the relationship, and you are not together.  Revenge porn is a real thing.  If the person you were dating changes their feelings or gets mad, they have an image that they can send out to every other person in high school or post to a revenge pornography site.  Anytime you send a sexual image there is always a risk that someone you do not want to see it will see it.  It is also possible that many, many people may see the image.

Protect Yourself

 In this arena of uncertainty, where something can go viral in the blink of an eye, how do you protect yourself?  Here are some guidelines to help your child protect themselves.

If you choose to consensually share a sexual image with someone, only send an image or video that you would not mind someone else seeing.  Are you ok with just anyone seeing you nude or engaged in a sexual act with someone?  If you are not okay with that, and choose to send an image, perhaps send a picture in a bathing suit or underwear.  I don’t want this to be read as advocating for teens sexting but for those who choose to do so, to send an image that the sender would not mind any and all to see.

If you choose to send a sexual image, only send an image to someone you trust.  Sending an image is a great act of trust as you lose control of that image the moment it is sent.  You need to truly and completely trust that the person you send it to won’t someday get mad at you and send it to all of his or her friends or post it online without your consent.

How do you know who you can trust?  To answer this, I will borrow from Brene Brown’s concept Anatomy of Trust otherwise known as BRAVING.  This can be applied to you or another.

  • Boundaries – The person you may send this image to always respects your  boundaries
  • Accountability – The person you may send this image to always owns their mistakes,  apologizes and makes amends
  • Integrity –   The person you may send this image to always acts with integrity, does what is right instead of what is easy or fun.
  • Reliability –  The person you may send this image to is reliable.  They always mean what they say and say what they do.
  • Vault-  The person you may send an image to NEVER shares things that are not his or hers to share.  They don’t gossip and they keep confidences.
  • Non-Judgment- The person you may send this to will not judge you.
  • Generosity-   The person you may send this image to will assume the most generous thoughts about your actions and intentions.

If the person you are thinking about sending a sexual image to does not meet the core pieces of the anatomy of trust, you may wish to rethink sending him or her a sexual image.

To conclude, I would like to reiterate that my intention here is not to encourage or glamorize the practice of sexting among adolescents.  My point is to be realistic.  If teens are going to engage in sexting we need to empower them with accurate information and guidance about how to do so safely.  Talking to your child about Safe Sexting arms them with information to make their own informed decisions.

For more information on how to talk to your child please see my book, The New Age of Sex Education: how to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age.

For more information on Dr. Weeks, Please see our website www.sexualaddictiontreatmentservices.com

Parents – Get Your Kids off Adult Dating Apps

grindr.PNG

I started engaging in prevention and education work as a direct result of my experiences working as a forensic psychologist in the field of sexual addiction and sexual offending. Despite my efforts and the efforts of many others more well-known than myself, we continue to see an increase in cybersex issues with teens.

This month, I have had several new forensic cases involving teens and dating apps. These new cases involved adult men who were found to be having sexual contact with minors that were met via the adult dating app Grindr.

First, let’s talk about dating apps. The most well-known adult dating apps are Tinder and Grindr. Tinder is used more for those who are attracted to the opposite sex and Grindr is targeted at the gay male audience. Other names you need to know: Jack’d, Scruff, Adam 4 Adam, Growlr, Plenty of Fish, Ok Cupid.

Why do you need to know about these apps? Because under age teens are on these apps, using them and meeting with adults for sexual encounter. Any and all of these apps are for people over the age of 18. They specifically state in their information that you cannot be under 18 (or 21 in some places) and use the app. The apps are for adults. The problem is that often all you must do is enter a birthdate or check a box that affirms you are at least 18 years of age and there is no age verification. Anyone under the age of 18 can do the math and figure out what birth year they need to enter to comply. If someone mutually swipes and connects with your child, they will text or chat to see if they are compatible and arrange a hook up or meeting. Sometimes, during these chats, the child may disclose that they are under the age of 18. Many times, they do not.

There are two ways your child could end up having sex with an adult via an adult dating app:

  1. They could be targeted by an adult who is specifically seeking a young or young-looking man or woman on the app. However, there is an assumption that all on the app are of legal age. During the chat, the child could disclose that they are underage. Obviously, at this point, the right thing for anyone to do is to discontinue the conversation with the minor and NOT meet them, connect with them and surely not have sex with them. However, some people will ignore what is right and hook up with the minor for sex. In this case, the person meeting the minor has full knowledge that they are underage when they are hooking up with them and knows this is illegal.

  1. A child could go on an adult dating app and create a profile that says they are at least 18 years old. They could engage with men or women on line and meet up with them for sexual encounters. The child could never disclose that they are a minor to the person they are meeting for sex. Therefore, the person who is meeting them for sex is under the assumption that they are at least 18 and they are not knowingly having sex with a minor.

What can you do if you are a parent?

  1. Talk to your child. Talk to them about dating apps, hook up apps and any social networking apps. Ask what they use and how they use it. Ask if they are on the sites. Discuss with them the inappropriateness of being a minor and being on an adult dating site. I have had clients tell me they were on these apps when they were as young as 13 years old.

  1. If necessary, block your child’s access to these sites. I am not usually a fan of blocking sites completely, but in these cases, where there are such serious risks, I say, block your child’s access until they are the legal age to use the apps.

  1. Be open to your child’s curiosity about sex and sexuality. Many of these issues occur on same sex dating sites. This is likely because adolescent men are exploring their sexuality and may not be out, feel safe doing so in their school or social network and/or have no one to talk to about their questions and feelings. Be that safe person for your child to talk to and help them find appropriate resources to answer their questions.

What can you do if you use a dating site?

  1. If you find out someone you are talking to is under 18, stop talking to them IMMEDIATELY. Report their use of the app to the administrators of the app per the app’s instructions. DO NOT MEET THE UNDERAGE USER.

  1. If you think someone is younger than 18, ask for some form of ID to verify their age. Ask for a driver’s license. Yes, someone can get a fake ID If they are underage, but you need to do this to protect yourself and not make a life altering bad decision.

Does the app bear any responsibility when a minor is preyed upon in an adult dating app or ends up having sexual encounters with an adult? The answer to this is, NO. They do not. This has been challenged in court and the apps have won, meaning that the stated age requirements and acknowledgment of the user of the rules removes them from any liability in these cases. I would urge the makers of these apps to do more to try to remove under age users from their platforms.

As always, the key to prevention is awareness and communication. Talk to your child!

For more information on Dr. Weeks please see our company website. You can find The New Age of Sex Education: How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age on amazon.

Sex Ed by Porn: Free Webinar Friday

iStock_000044887094_Full.jpgJoin me this Friday for a free one hour webinar hosted by The Center for Healthy Sex at 12:00 pm (PT) to talk about the effects of cybersex and sexting on children.

Click here to see the event details  http://centerforhealthysex.com/sex-therapy-resources/upcoming-events/

 

You can also check out my book on the topic:  The New Age of Sex Education:  How to Talk to your Teen about Cybersex and Pornography in the Digital Age.  

More Evidence That Filtering Doesn’t Work: Teach Resilience Too

iStock_000007152788_Small (1)

Earlier this month a study was published in the Journal of Pediatrics that looked at internet filtering and the adverse experiences of adolescents online. There are countless software options for filtering content on your smartphone, computer, tablet or even to filter all content via your home wi-fi. Filtering has become big business. It makes us all feel better. Many parents install parental controls of some kind onto their children’s devices. Many addicts use these programs to help them stay away from pornography or other acting out apps. Just because installing these apps makes us feel better doesn’t actually mean that they are working.

In order to address this question – do these apps really decrease the adverse experiences kids have online- two researchers from Oxford interviewed 1030 adolescents (aged 12 to 15) as well as their caregivers. The researchers hypothesized (like we all do) that having some sort of filtering software installed on digital devices would protect the kids from negative online experiences. In this study, only 34% of parents said they used some sort of network filtering. Nearly 50% of the adolescent participants felt competent to work around any filter that was installed on their devices.

The results of this study indicated that the presence of internet filtering software did not reduce a child’s risk of being exposed to some type of adverse online experience. This could have been bullying, sexual advances, pornography exposure, etc. The authors of the study suggest, as I have written about previously, that parents, caretakers and educators invest time in teaching adolescents resilience skills,particularly focused on internet use and exposure to negative online experiences.

What is digital resilience? It is the ability of children to cope with negative online content in a healthy and appropriate manner. This involves both their own use of the internet, and particularly social media, but also the content that they view. Some have suggested teaching digital citizenship to young people. This includes helping young people assess representations of body image online; learning how to identify fake news; learning how to control one’s own internet use and learning how to disengage. (for more information on this see the Growing Up Digital Report).

The United Kingdom has suggested 5 Rights for adolescents regarding digital use.

  1. The right to remove: This means that everyone should be aware of how to remove any information that they have posted themselves. Additionally, anyone using social media should be aware if it is possible to remove something that someone else posted of them. If it is possible, they should know how to do it.
  2. The right to know: This means that everyone who is using the internet, but particularly social media for teens, should understand what sites are doing with your information. Who has access to your data? Who do they give it to, etc?
  3. The right to safety and support: This means that adolescents should know that they can turn to someone for support if they encounter something online that they do not understand or that they find distressing. They need to have someone in their life that they can trust with this communication.
  4. The right to informed and conscious use: This means that everyone should understand that the digital world is complicated and that they can turn it off. This also means they have access to the skills to switch off for a period of time.
  5. The right to digital literacy: This means that adolescents should really understand the technology that they are using and it’s purpose.

As an example, most people just get on an app and start using it. They do not actually read the user agreement which will state if the user has any privacy at all and what rights they have to content. Those agreements also discuss what content is appropriate and how to report inappropriate content. Most teens never read these agreements so lack digital literacy and their right to know is not met.

The right to safety and support is the providence of parents. Do you talk to your children about online content. Are you a safe person for them to talk to about things they see online? Do you provide support or lecture? Also, as a parent, you can enforce digital time outs or digital vacations. This is something that no teen is going to want to engage in, but parents are still the ones to set boundaries. Is there a no tech rule at the dinner table that EVERYONE (you too parents) follows? Does the family engage in any no-tech activities?

Since the scientific evidence is mounting to indicate that filtering access to content is not very effective for protecting teens from adverse online experiences, we need to do more. If you filter, you also need to teach digital literacy and resilience.

For more information on how to talk to your child, you can purchase my book on Amazon by clicking here.

For more information on Dr. Weeks and her practice, click here.

Do you think your teen talks to you about online risk?

Daughter looking a phone and ignoring her mother

My last post detailed research presented last year by Dr. Wisniewski . Today’s post will highlight research she presented just a week or two ago, the end of February, at the CSCW conference. Dr. Wisniewski and her colleagues continue to generate wonderful research that has real time applicability to parenting in the digital age.

Very little is known from the research community about whether teens actually communicate the risk they experience online with parents. Each parent may have their own thoughts about their own child’s exposure to risk and communication of that exposure but there is no way to really know the truth.

In the research presented last week, Dr. Wisniewski had 68 teen-parent pairs fill out weekly online diaries that cataloged the risks the teen experience online, whether the teen intended the risk to occur and how they felt about the incident. The parents were also asked to log incidents of risk that child came to them to disclose the risk encounter. The researchers then looked to see how many “matched” reports existed. A matched report was a risk diary entry made both by the parent and the teen.

First, let’s talk about risk. What types of risk does a teen face online? For the sake of this research, the risks were broken down into four categories. 1) information breaches – these are situations in which a teens personal information or photo is being used or shared online without their permission. 2) Online Harassment – This is cyberbullying or negative online interactions that make the teen feel unsafe, threatened or embarrassed. 3) Sexual Solicitations – these are sexting or requests for sexual content that can come from friends, acquaintances or strangers. 4) Exposure to Explicit Content is either voluntary or accidental viewing of pornography or violent content online.

So, what did the researchers find? Well, in a nutshell, not much matching. They found that only 15% of risk reports were matched, meaning that most of the time, parents and teens were very out of synch on what they considered risk or what they reported.

Parents reported much less risk than their children did. Many teens did not share exposure to explicit content or information breaches with their parents. These tend to be viewed as low risk by teens and it is hypothesized that therefore the information is not shared with parents. While parents tended to report low risk issues, teens reported more medium level risks.

Another interesting finding from the study involves what the researchers called Risk Agency. Basically, this looked at whether anyone was “at fault.” Was a risk accidental or intentional? Teens more frequently shared that risk exposure was accidental and parents tended to assume that their children were either victims or intended to engage in risk. Parents tended to assume that things that were accidentally viewed by their children were intentional.

In my work with parents, I often stress communication. This study also looked at parent teen communication. In most cases, teens did NOT tell their parents about risk they experienced online. The bigger problem is that the parents THOUGHT that their teens were talking to them when they were not. When teens did talk to parents, it was to ask them for help or when they were shocked by content they had seen. Another main reason why teens did not tell parents about risk exposure was the fear that the parent would react negatively. They didn’t want to be punished for things that were not their fault. Teens also did not want to hear a lecture from their parents that involved reprimand. Teens tended to find the reactions of parents: grounding, taking away phones, disallowing social media, etc. to be too harsh.

What are the practical take aways from this study? First, teens only tell their parents about 28% of the risk they encounter online. Parents under estimate risk and over estimate how much their child tells them. Teens tend to think many online risk situations are “no big deal.” Teens also find parents as lecturing, reactive and judgmental about risk they do share.

The study and clinical practice suggest that parents need to work hard to improve their communication with their teen about online activity, risk and resilience. If a parent can share discussions with their child about how to manage online risk before it happens in a nonjudgmental, non-lecturing manner, they will likely increase the chances of their teen talking to them about their online experiences. If parents want to know what is going on in their teens online world, they need to specifically ask what is going on and not assume that their child will tell them.

For more information on Dr. Weeks please see our company website. You can find The New Age of Sex Education: How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age on amazon.

Rethinking Online Safety Apps

Father And Son Using Laptop At Home

Father And Son Using Laptop At Home

 

After spending last year finishing my book, I am about to launch a very busy spring and summer of public talks and professional presentations about both adolescent cybersex and adult sexual addiction.  In preparation, I have again dug into the research to see what is new since I published my book, The New Age of Sex Education:  How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age.  Dr. Pamela Wisniewski, now at the University of Central Florida, has continued her research (started at Penn State) on online safety.  She is doing great work and the world outside of academia needs to know about it!

Dr. Wisniewski recently presented some of her work at an ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) conference where she presented her TOSS model of mobile online safety.  She presented data on an analysis of 75 Android apps that promote teen online safety.  Her goal in doing this study was to see what these apps did and how they fit into her TOSS model.   Toss stands for Teen Online Safety Strategies.  Dr. Wisniewski and her colleagues created this model to frame and discuss the disparity between parental control and teen self-regulation.  This model looks at how parents try to regulate their child’s online safety and what teens need to learn to do it for themselves.

From the perspective of a parent, the model identifies three strategies that parents use to monitor teens online activity.  Monitoring is a strategy in which parents passively monitor their child’s online activity.  Restriction involves placing rules and limits on the teen’s online activity.  Both strategies do not involve discussing the topic with the child.  The third strategy is Active Mediation.  This involves discussions between parents and teens regarding online activities and how they will be handled.

The TOSS model also stresses Teen Self-Regulation.  This too falls into three categories.  These are skills that teens need to learn, both to deal with the digital world and in life in general.  The first skill is Self-Monitoring, which is a teens awareness of their motivations and actions that comes through self-observation.  The second is impulse control.  Teens need to learn to inhibit their short-term desires in favor of long term consequences.  The final issue is that of risk-coping.  Teens are exposed to risk all the time and they need to learn how to manage a negative event once it has happened.

This study found that nearly all the app features, (89%), were targeted at parents and only 11% at teens.  Monitoring and Restriction were supported by most the online safety apps.  Education on the topic was only supported by 2% of the apps and active parental mediation was only supported by less than 1% of the apps.  The news was not any better for teen coping strategies.  At most, 4% of the apps supported any teen self-regulation, self-monitoring or impulse control features.

When the researchers looked at what values were supported by the apps, they found that parental authority and teen safety were valued over teen autonomy and personal privacy.  They also found that parental control through invasion of privacy and restrictions was valued over open communication with teens.  Finally, they found that, for teens, asking for help was valued over trying to actively cope.

If you are a parent concerned about your child’s online safety, you might say “so what.”  I want to know that my child is safe online so I restrict their access to things.  Enough said.  Maybe not.

The research on resilience shows us that teens develop effective coping mechanisms to protect themselves online when they are exposed to some level of risk.  When we use strategies that only enforce transparency and obedience in teens, we do not allow them to learn coping and self-regulation.

The most effective strategy remains that of parental active mediation.  Parents and teens NEED to have discussions about online safety.  This does not mean that a parent cannot use an app that restricts or monitors.  It means that the parent and the child talk about the risks of being online, including pornography use, sexting, cyberbullying etc.  Then they decide together how best to manage the environment in a way that fits with their family values.

As a parent, you will not always be there to shield your child from online risk.  We need to foster the appropriate TOSS skills in teens (and younger children) to help ensure that they can navigate the online world in a healthy manner even when you are not around.

 

Wisniewski, Ghosh, Zu, Rosson & Carroll.  (2017).  Parental Control vs. Teen Self-Regulation:  Is there a middle ground for mobile online safety?  Presented at CSCW ’17 in Portland, OR 2/25 0 3/1/17

For more information on Dr. Weeks please go to Sexual Addiction Treatment Services.