I talked with the Digital Dads about middle school and had so much fun. Lots of moms come to my talks and ask “How do I get my husband on board? He won’t sit down to read a parenting book.” Send your favorite dad this podcast!
Mom Matters is an event series from Charlotte Parent that brings moms together to hear from local leaders and specialists in the fields of wellness, media management and work-life balance. These two-hour luncheons are a dynamic and engaging way for moms to learn new approaches to parenting and family health.
Topic: How to Be a Media-Savvy Mom
Asbury Park Grove, 9300 Bob Beatty Road, Charlotte, 11:30am-1:30pm
Join us as we explore strategies and approaches to smart parenting in the digital age at our second Mom Matters event. If you are a mom in 2015, you are not going to want to miss this event!
- The effects technology has on the developing brain
- The pros and cons of cell phones for kids
- The effects of social media on children
- How to help kids understand technology and how they should use it
- How to make wise digital choices for our families
- Full lunch provided
- Sample local products and services
- Prizes and giveaways
- Networking with other Charlotte moms
Tickets: $20. Click here to purchase tickets
Today on Charlotte Today, I talked with Colleen and Eugene about a topic that strikes fear in the hearts of many parents: Sexting. Watch the video for my advice on how and when to talk with your kids about sexting and read below for more details on this topic.
Let’s make sure we’re all talking about the same thing. What are we really talking about when we talk about teens or tweens sexting?
The legal definition is sending sexually explicit materials through mobile phones but that’s incredibly broad. Today I’m talking about text messages that include nude or partially nude photographs – meaning parts of the body a bathing suit should cover are exposed.
How common is it?
This is a point that is largely debated. I could find quite a few studies on high school teens sexting and the numbers range from 5 – 28% of teens sexting. That number can go up to 50% if not limited to nude photographs. The larger number encompasses texts that are verbally provocative.
There are not (yet) a lot of studies on middle schoolers and sexting; however, I found one study done in Los Angeles last June with almost 1200 respondents. That study found 74% had smart phones, 4.6% had sent sexts and 20.1% had received sexts. This may mean that less kids are willing to take photographs but plenty are willing to send out pictures of other people or perhaps that some students are receiving sexts from older students in high school.
It’s important to note that even among middle schoolers, those who sent sexts are more likely to be sexually active in real life, not just sexually provocative through technology.
In addition to this study, teachers and parents anecdotally report to me that sexting in middle school is on the rise.
When should parents start a conversation about sexting?
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises doctors to start talking to their patients about sexting as soon as they receive their first cell phone. So now.
Parents are sometimes afraid of putting these sorts of topics on their kids radar but by the time your kid is 5th or 6th grade I say it’s time. You don’t have to be graphic but you should be honest and open.
HOW do you bring such a sensitive subject up and what kinds of things can parents say?
It’s definitely not a one-and-done conversation. When you give your child their first phone, it should come with rules and guidelines for use. Cover your expectations around sexting during this first conversation and continue to bring the topic up occasionally. During your first conversation, parents should hit on these topics:
- Define sexting
- Let kids know anyone can keep or forward that picture
- Talk about how the sender – or forwarder – might get immediate attention but it will quickly turn bad
- Respect for your own body and others
- Legal consequences
For future conversations, if you can relate the conversation to something topical – a new research study or news story – that will help you bring it up more naturally,
Parents can use this Charlotte Today interview today as a jumping off point. Instead of laying down all the scary things this conversation might make you think about (“it’s terrible, it’s gross, it’s illegal”) try this: ASK QUESTIONS or ponder out loud. “I wonder why that study showed 20% of kids receive sexts and only 4% send them…”
Most important, don’t rely on technology to curb bad behavior. Talk is much more effective.
If you could tell parents some things to avoid during this conversation, what are the pitfalls?
A lot of parents try to frighten their kids with the legal consequences. You should absolutely explain the ramifications of sexting from a legal perspective but don’t rely on that to be your strongest deterrent. You should talk about how sending sexts is distribution of child pornography and receiving them is possession of child pornography, but the reality is that most teens will know or have heard of other kids who sext and who have never been punished by the law. This means legal consequences will feel like an empty threat. If that’s the beginning and end of your case against sexting you’re not going to get anywhere. Make sure you expand the conversation to talk about values, self-esteem and most important to ANY middle schooler, the reality of what others will think of someone who does this. Sharing a story about someone who did it and ended up being ostracized will have a bigger impact than anything else.
Final thought: Kids are impulsive and make mistakes. Remember not to exploit other kids’ pain or to sound judgmental about other kids’ mistakes. Just share information and let your child come to a conclusion.
I was interviewed last week by The Chicago Tribune about a sexting scandal at two middle schools, in which two dozen kids were caught sending nude pictures to each other. The district superintendent responded to the scandal with this statement, “”Moving forward we will redouble our efforts to communicate with the kids and have ongoing conversations between the staff and students about responsible use of technology.”
It’s not about the technology. Adults are just focusing on technology because they’re too afraid to talk about the real issues: sexuality and self-respect.
As I said to the Tribune, “The technology lesson is pretty simple: Press the button and it sends. Don’t press the button and it doesn’t send.”
“Kids do weigh the danger involved in a case like this, but they perceive it as having some value to them that outweighs the risk. It offers some kind of social reward that makes it worth putting themselves in danger.”
Read the full article on the Chicago Tribune site.
There has been a lot of online chatter recently about the now infamous Mrs. Hall letter, in which she instructs teenage girls to stop posting sleazy selfies online or otherwise be booted from her family’s online island. (If you haven’t read the original, it’s been changed so the one I link to is not what she first posted.) After Mrs. Hall posted her letter, there were a bunch of responses, including my favorite, which talked about a myriad of ways in which Mrs. Hall was everything from condescending to clueless to misogynistic. For the record, most of the responses I agreed with. But it occurred to me as I was reading the back and forth that we’re all forgetting one very important piece of this complicated puzzle.
While everyone is busy telling each other what pictures kids shouldn’t post on Instagram, no one is telling them how to use Instagram well.
It’s the parenting equivalent of taking your younger child to a playground where all her friends are playing, then saying: “You’re allowed to be here, but it’s really dangerous and what you do here could hurt you, your reputation, and your friendships in the long run. Don’t go down the slide in a skirt. Don’t go on the swings at all. No monkey bars unless you’re being very, very careful. You figure out what that means. Have fun.”
All of these moms and dads crying out “too many selfies!” and “mind your own business!” aren’t helping the kids who are at the playground wondering what to do for fun. In a giant game of Monkey-See, Monkey-Do, kids on Instagram naturally post pictures of what they see most. Yes, selfies. Yes, mountains of shopping bags after a trip to the mall. Yes, provocative poses. They just need a little inspiration to think more broadly. To that end, I offer a new Formula for Instagram Fun that breaks down how your kid can create a more well-rounded online image.
We can do better. The conversations we have with our kids about online responsibility can’t begin and end with a list of everything they’re not supposed to do. Let’s inspire them and start a major shift in the way they see and project themselves online. If you have a kid on Instagram, please share the info graphics below and start a conversation about being more than a #selfie. Visit my Instagram page for a series of these images you and your kids can share to join the revolution. Have fun!