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.

How Do I Start this Conversation?

By remembering it's a conversation, not a sermon. If you can talk openly with your kids about how embarrassing a nude photo would be for them, how no one ever achieved the right kind of popularity through nudes and discuss at length what dinner might be like the day after that picture, you're on the right track!

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.

Jennifer Schiffman, Prevention Specialist

Ms. Schiffman has been a part of the task force for eight years, spending the last four years as the prevention specialist. She works with students, parents, educators, social workers and other professionals throughout the state to bring people up to speed on the dangers our kids face online.