The world of social media has given us so many good opportunities however dangers lurk, especially for girls!

What is sexting?

Sexting is sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photographs, or images, primarily between mobile phones, of oneself to others. It may also include the use of a computer or any digital device. The term was first popularized early in the 21st century and is a portmanteau of sex and texting, where the latter is meant in the wide sense of sending a text possibly with images – Wikipedia.

The use of smartphones and social media apps to ‘sext’ is increasingly high amongst teenagers and the most vulnerable are females. Parents, or anyone concerned, needs to understand that the likeliness of teens receiving sexual content is increasing on a daily basis, thanks to the world of tech.

Why is sexting a problem?

A video or picture shared between two people should remain private however this is not always the case, even for adults. Your teenage child might believe that the person on the receiving end might keep the photo or video private, only to wake up the next day and find her peers looking at the same photo she sent to someone that she thought she could trust!

(Note: Re-publishing or forwarding sexting videos or pictures of an individual, especially one that is underage, is a serious offence that could lead to jail time.)

Bullying, humiliation and harassment are common results when sexting photos and/or videos are shared beyond the person they were intended for. Teens who shared sexting photos may suffer depression, cyberbullying and mental health anxiety, sometimes even thoughts of suicide

What parents can do about sexting?

Parents need to have regular conversations with their teens about the dangers of the internet and how it can negatively affect their lives. The best approach to taking about sexting with teens is to avoid coming across as judgmental, instead, be well informed and prepare yourself to give honest answers to the questions they might have during the conversation. 

As much as you might want to be the leader of the conversation, make sure that you also listen to what your teens have to say. Teens are trying to grow into their personality therefore, they might not always agree with what you’re saying. Your role as a parent is to give them space to think about the consequences and how they would want their peers, as well as everyone else, to view them.

If your teen informs you that he/she has been involved in sexting, do not be quick to get angry! Calmly ask:

  • How did you get involved?
  • Are you truly comfortable sending and receiving photos with sexually content?
  • Did you feel pressurized into sexting?
  • How many pictures have you sent and to whom have you sent them to?

If your teen has been a victim of cyberbullying as a result of a sext, you will need to ask some of the questions above to gather evidence so be as calm as possible. Your teen will need you to be a “safe-space” and reacting in anger could add more trauma to the situation!

In most cases, teens are bullied into doing things they do not want to do by their peers because they want to fit in – parents needs to have regular conversations about peer pressure and give guidance on how a teen can 1) identify an instance of peer pressure, 2) talk to a trusted adult about peer pressure and, 3) make well informed decisions.