What parents can do
How can you make sure your kids have smut-free cell phones? Experts advise both monitoring and restricting their phone use. Many phone plans limit the number of texts that can be sent per month and block images. You can also justify doing spot checks of your teens’ phones if you pay for all or part of the bills. The Pew study found that teens who paid for their own phone bills were more likely to report that they had engaged in sexting. About 17% of those teens had sent nude or semi-nude images, compared to 3% of those who had a parent or someone else pay for all or part of their bills.
“It doesn’t eliminate the risk, but it reduces the risk,” says Sabella, who keeps tabs on his 16-year-old son’s phone.
Work with the school
Since most sexting incidents are uncovered not at home but in school, parents should collaborate with schools to help curb sexting. Last summer the Houston school district voted to ban sexting and warn students that their phones would be taken away and police called. The Miami-Dade school district plans to incorporate lessons on tech safety into its curriculum.
If you want to help your school raise awareness, approach your local law enforcement agency, says Michelle Boykins, a spokesperson for the National Crime Prevention Council. Police officers and prosecutors can come to schools to talk about the laws affecting sexting, which vary between states, and give examples of real cases they’ve seen.
Parents and schools should also work together to help victims, Boykins says. Kids who are harassed after a sexting incident need to be monitored for extreme behavior changes that could signal depression. A safe haven in school should be provided, and if the bullying gets overwhelming, get police involved. Jessica Logan’s parents filed a lawsuit against her school, claiming administrators didn’t do enough to stop classmates from harassing her.
Don’t forget the sex ed in sexting talks
Finally, it’s crucial that parents understand that sexting doesn’t just involve issues of technology and bullying. It’s also about, well, sex. Parents should use the sordid trend as a way to talk to teens about sex, Boykins says. Remind teens that respect should be the basis of a relationship — they shouldn’t feel pressured to exchange explicit photos to attract or keep a partner.
“We need to help them understand that not everybody they interact with in a digital environment has their best interests at heart,” Boykins says. “Relationships at that age change overnight. They’re not thinking about the human factor in the technology that they’re using.” Technology may let them flirt in new ways, but, at heart, the old warnings about relationships still apply.