Advice for Parents: How to prevent Sexting?
It is necessary to emphasize prevention, which is achieved by instilling a culture of privacy into minors. This means making minors aware of the risks they are exposed to when they publish personal data and to value their privacy. The main measure in this respect is to talk to them about these issues rationally, discussing possible risks and current cases, and create an atmosphere of trust which may make minors more likely to speak about their ideas and problems more easily and to reflect on possible consequences.
- Parents must talk to their children about sexting. Just as parents talk to their children about real life safety - not talking to strangers or buying their own drinks - they should also talk about how to make good use of technology. What would happen if they send an intimate photograph to somebody who is supposed to be trustworthy? Can teenagers imagine what would happen if all their schoolmates or sports team saw that photograph? We should all be aware of the risks involved in the use of the Internet.
- Smartphones are not safe. We naively think that our devices are personal, that only we have access to the material stored in them and we save all types of files, especially photographs. Many teenagers even save sexually explicit photographs. Parents should explain to their children that a cell phone may get damaged, lost or stolen, so its contents may be violated and those intimate photographs may get to “pirates” and be distributed rapidly. It is best that these photographs simply never existed in the first place.
- Understand how the computer webcam works. If the computer is in the teenagers’ bedroom and is not properly protected, malware could be installed easily and a complete stranger could access the webcam and see what these teenagers do. You should advise your children not to share any data about their home or photographs of their family, not to accept video calls from unknown people, and act in front of the camera as they would in a public place. A rather rustic but effective method is to place an adhesive tape over the webcam, and thus, if any stranger manages to turn it on from anywhere, they will not see anything.
- Respect themselves and respect others. Here, parents play a very important role, as in all other aspects of their children’s lives. Their children must understand that respect for themselves and for the others also includes body and integrity. They should be warned about the possible consequences of their actions. Sending a scantily clad photograph to their girlfriend or boyfriend may end up with all their friends seeing it. Relationships break up and former partners have intimate photographs of each other. These photographs can also be distributed because of theft, robbery, loss or damage of the cell phone.
- Do not yield to pressure or blackmail. Explain to them that, if they are insistently asked to send an image by a loved or trusted person, or if they are threatened by somebody they do not know, the only correct course of action is not to yield under any circumstances. If it is a malicious person, minors should ask for the help of a responsible adult.
- Explain to them that sexting may be a crime. Maybe teenagers do not realise that sexting can be considered a crime. In many countries, sending images of naked minors or of sexual content is considered child pornography, which is a very serious crime. And it is still considered a crime when a teenager receives or sends sexually explicit images, even if these images are of themselves. Parents should talk to their children naturally, in order to build trust so that they ask their parents for help when they face a situation that worries them.
- Be the first to promote privacy and confidentiality. These two concepts are closely related. If someone keeps personal secret information, it is considered to be private information. If private information is shared with others, and they share it only with those who have the right to it, the information is considered to be confidential. These two principles require that private and confidential information must be treated respectfully and must not be shared with people who do not have the right to it.
- Teach them not to spread the material received from their friends. Remind them that that person trusts them and they trust that person, so they should not betray him / her just as they expect not to be betrayed.
- Tell them not to participate in sexting, either by creating, or resending, or promoting it. When you resend a sexting image to other people, you are actively participating in the game. To end the risks associated with sexting, the minor is recommended not to participate in its creation or dissemination, and to delete from their terminal any images of this kind that they may have received.
Some questions and suggestions to start the conversation
In many families, it is precisely the minors who are the technology experts (they are called digital natives). This can give them an excess of confidence to handle such situations. Consequently, sometimes teenagers feel self-sufficient and think they are able to solve any problem, overestimating their ability to respond to any situation that happens in a technological environment (either a technical problem or a risk derived from human actions).
Also, in many cases the digital gap between generations may mean that sometimes parents cannot advise minors, as they do not thoroughly understand the problems associated with inappropriate use of technologies. Parents face situations which they do not have enough information about, while minors think they know all about them. Below we propose some ways to have a conversation with your children about this topic:
- Do you know what sexting is?
- “I was watching TV and I saw that some children had problems because of sexting. Do you know anything about sexting?”
- What kind of things do you and your friends share when you are on Internet?
- Let your son / daughter know that it is illegal.
- Ask your son / daughter to tell you if anybody sends them inappropriate photographs or videos.
- Make them think of the possible consequences of their behaviour (cyberbullying, low self-esteem, depression, legal problems).
- Make them think of their image.
- Do not think that it is the “latest fashion” for teenagers’ expression.
- Do not think that only children / teenagers with personal or behavioural problems do it.
What to do when faced with sexting? Where to report it?
It is vital for adults to create a climate of trust with their children, so that they can deal with the risks associated with sexting in a respectful, mature and responsible way.
If the contents have already been displayed and made public (for example, on a social network or in a photo album on the Internet), the proper measures must be taken in order to delete them. To do this, the person requesting the removal of the image must contact the administrators of the website where it is published and immediately file a complaint with the police.
To psychologically help the minor affected, it is always advisable to consult a professional, as they may be having a difficult time seeing their intimacy exposed to everybody. We also have to know the minor’s environment so that this situation does not result in mocking or cyberbullying.
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.