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Sexting: What Parents Need to Know

cellphoneDozens of students at three Metro-Detroit schools are facing felony charges after circulating nude photos on their phones. Students at Rochester Adams High School and Van Hoosen Middle School in Rochester Hills and Romeo Sr. High in Romeo, MI are under investigation for “sexting” – photographing, sharing or possessing underage images on their cell phones. These teenagers could be charged with possessing, manufacturing, distributing and receiving child pornography which are felonies punishable by prison terms of 4- 20 years.

Although the laws are in place to protect children from predators, these young people could be charged for sending via text pictures of themselves. The issue should serve as a wake up call for children and parents that teen’s behavior on their phone can have serious long term consequences.

So as a parent, what can you do to protect your child from predators… and in this case themselves?

  • Monitor and supervise:
    1. As a parent you have the right to be aware of the who, what, where and when of your child’s behavior. As a child grows up you may be less involved but that should also be dependent on trust and past behavior. The more a child meets your expectations the more privileges and freedoms they can earn. In the case of online and phone behavior you must be able to see the phone to even “catch them” doing the inappropriate behavior. Past behavior is one of the strongest predictors of future behavior.
    2. If your child tells you their phone is personal property and private, they are wrong. You are allowed to request to see their phone regardless if they are paying for it themselves or if it is paid for by another parent.
    3. Get familiar with popular apps. In this case Snapchat is an app that may have caused problems for these kids. Snapchat is a photo sharing and text app that deletes items quickly causing kids to believe there are no real consequences.
  • Set clear expectations for online behavior:
    1. You may even consider creating a code of ethics for your family as a family. If you have certain values about what should and should not be sent over phone or online let your children know what that is. These might include swearing, bullying, thinspo, and as this case would teach us, any nude photos.
    2. Decide how and when you will check phones. You can decide on regular or random check ins, and can choose to agree upon this as a family or as parents.
    3. When searching the phone, have your child explain apps and how they are used or certain messages. Give lots of verbal praise for cooperation and positive behaviors online (i.e., being a supportive friend, posting meaningful quotes, congratulating others).
    4. Have predetermined limits or privilege loss for inappropriate behavior. You may want to consider different levels of consequences for different levels of behavior. (for example, a swear word may be losing the phone for 15-30 minutes, but violent threats may be losing the phone for a week along with a work chore).
  • Teach your child to problem solve:
    1. Have family brainstorming and problem solving sessions to dissect certain issues like what would you do if this were happening at your school? Brainstorm possible solutions, discuss pros and cons and make an agreement about the appropriate way to respond.

For additional information, listen as Birmingham Maple Clinic therapist Dan O’Neil specifically addresses the Rochester Hills sexting case with WJR’s Paul W. Smith and offers tips to parents to help their teens avoid similar trouble. Dan O’Neil also appears on the Bottom Line with Cindy Kainz to offer advice on protecting your children from sexual predators.