The Truth About Sexting
Jenn Schiffman, Prevention Specialist, MO ICAC Task Force
Don't. Send. Naked. Pictures. Ever. Such a Simple Message, Right? Not if You're a Kid.
For those of you who aren't familiar with it, sexting refers to taking and sending of nude or partially nude photos or videos and sending them to someone else or having sexual conversations through text or social media apps. It's quite common in adults and now even more common with students. But before we start a discussion about sexting I want you to understand this isn't about good kids or bad kids, "at-risk" kids or any other category of kids. This is about our kids growing up in a world full of confusing messages and with constant access to technology. This is about opportunity, hormones, peer pressure and kids spending a lot of time in a world they think we can't see.
In my experience as the prevention specialist for our task force I have found that if your kids are using Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, Kik or Twitter, they are probably already seeing kids their age make this mistake day after day. That tends to normalize the behavior and make it seem like no big deal. They rarely see the social and legal consequences, or understand how they can be putting themselves at risk of meeting an online predator. I've also found that most kids have a really different perspective on the issue. The following statements demonstrate what the kids that are sexting think about it - and this is the information they share with the kids who are thinking about it.
It's No Big Deal - Everybody Does It and Only Stupid People Get Caught - It's Just for Fun - Flirting - It's the New Safe Sex - It's My Body - It's Okay if You're in a Relationship
As you can see, it's quite different from the parent's perspective! That's because as wonderful, talented and smart as our kids may seem, the part of their brains that "applies the brakes" (pre-frontal cortex) isn't done growing yet. In fact, it won't be up and running right until they're 25 or 26! How does that relate to sexting? Not only do they think they're not going to get caught, but even if they've considered getting caught, they can't weigh the consequences (later) of what seems like a good idea (right now).
For that reason I strongly suggest that every parent start an open and ongoing conversation about Nudes (sexting is the word old people use!) with their child - both boys and girls.
Before you do you should understand the pressure our kids are under and where it's coming from.
Pressure from "Friends"
Frequently it's not just 1 text message - many kids report receiving multiple text messages stretching over days and weeks hounding them for an image. Sometimes they just give in so they will be left alone. Sometimes the person asking for the image threatens to tell a horrible lie (or truth) about them if they don't give in. In rare cases threats of physical harm are made.
From Older Students
Older students have figured out that it's pretty hard to get people their age to send them nudes - so they start targeting kids in middle or grade school because they know it will be easier to get them to give in.
While It's true that online predators (creepers) represent a smaller threat in number, they have learned to utilize technology to reach many victims at a time. Mr. Chansler, above, convinced 350 victims to send him pictures by pretending to be a young girl. He then used those pictures to extort his victims to send more and more photos. Law enforcement has identified 109 of those kids and is still looking for 241 other victims.
Pressure from "Friends"
From Older Students
How Do I Start this Conversation?
FOR GIRLS: I might mention the fact that no one who actually respects you would ask for a nude in the first place. These pictures are for someone's immediate gratification and nothing else. It definitely doesn't mean he likes you or that he's going to date you. It's very likely he's going to share it with his friends at school or on Instagram and Kik.
FOR BOYS: Yes, our boys get asked, too. You might mention that the requests usually come from adult men posing as teen girls. It will leave an impression, trust me.
It would also be wise for you to talk about the legal issues. Taking these photos is illegal, having them on your phone is illegal and sending them to your friends is illegal. Not just misdemeanor illegal, felony illegal. That can cause big problems that last a long time.