Medical Moment: Teens and Sexting

Published: Feb. 24, 2022 at 5:53 PM EST
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(WNDU) - With the pandemic keeping kids at home and online, kids are having easier access to sexually explicit material at a young age. Statistics show the average age for first time exposure to pornographic material is 11.

Father Steve Hartschuh is cautious of what his kids see online, especially during the pandemic.

“With everything closed down, they were basically in the house on their computer,” Hartschuh said.

A lot more screen time can lead to inappropriate websites.

“More comprehensive and include topics, such as sexting and sexually explicit media,” Katie Gallagher, Director of Education at Candor Health Education said. “Current research is saying about one in four teens have received a sext.”

A sext is a sexually explicit or suggestive image, message, or video sent on a smartphone or through the internet. The CDC says sexting can damage a teen’s self-image, lead to depression and other mental health issues, and teens can even face felony charges.

“It’s so critical to talk to kids about these kinds of situations before they may find themselves in it,” Katie continued.

Parents can get the conversation started by using a recent news story or something you’ve seen to engage your teen on the topic. Explain early and often how a sent image or message can’t be taken back and can live forever on the internet. Talk about personal boundaries and how to resist peer pressure. Steve makes sure to steer his daughter Ava in the right direction, especially as she navigates dating in high school.

“He told me to be conscious of my decisions and really think about what I am doing and think about the outcomes and bigger picture,” Ava said.

And how that picture may not only be worth a thousand words, but also your reputation.

Here are some points of conversation to help in the process of discussion:

  • Ask What They Think. Before you begin a discussion about what you think about sexting, ask them if they’ve heard of it and what they think about it.
  • Create an Open Door. Let them know they can come to you about anything, and that you are there to listen and help in any way you can.
  • Stay Connected and Informed. Both with your child and with newer ways teens communicate. Snapchat, Discord, TikTok, and Instagram are a lot of ways kids choose to communicate and understanding how they function is a big part of the conversation.
  • Help Them Create Healthy Boundaries. Kids should be taught why it isn’t a good idea to sext and what to do if they feel that someone is pressuring them into it.
  • Have Small Conversations. Ask about their day, their friends, or how school is going. Try and be considerate and curious instead of overbearing and controlling.

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