Advice for parents
Don’t wait for an incident to happen. As with most online challenges, the best way for parents to discuss sexting is in a direct, but reasonable way, emphasizing responsibility, risks and consequences. Several small conversations will give you a much better idea of your child's social life than an “interrogation” or lecture. Children are more apt to talk openly and honestly if she feels you are consistently on the level. Although it may not be an easy conversation, if you learn that your child is dating or engaging in sexual behaviors, it may be time to have a fairly candid discussion about sex and include the topic of sexting. If not, having a discussion about bullying that addresses the issue of using text messages to harass or humiliate others may be appropriate.
Emphasize the Risks
Parents should communicate that there are very real risks of this seemingly inconsequential behavior, including school-wide embarrassment, legal consequences, and distribution of viruses. Stopping to think twice may make all the difference if your child is thinking of pressing “send” on something he or she might regret.
It has been said that “sexting isn't a two-way street: it's more like a multi-lane highway. That means that kids who may not be sending sexts are receiving them, forwarding them to others, and contributing to a potentially malicious environment of gossip and harassment.” Urge your child to think before forwarding sexually provocative images of other people – how would he feel if that were his image instead of someone else's? Using empathy can only help when it comes to making the decision to press “delete”, rather than saving or forwarding.
Kind and considerate people offline can make irreversible mistakes online, so it is important to stress that responsible behavior extends to email, text messaging, videos and social networking. Emphasize that anything posted online, or sent via cell phones or email, can be saved, shared and disseminated across the Internet. That means that the potential for embarrassment is ever present, even if not recognized at the time of an action or interaction.
(Adapted from Education.com – “Is Your Child Sexting? What Parents Need to Know.” – 5/2009)