How does a parent handle teenage sexting and appropriate content online? It is clear when your child doesn’t clean his room or complete homework on a nightly basis and therefore, the communication and discipline that ensues is obvious and direct. How does a parent know what their child’s behavior looks like on the internet when there is no way to observe or screen the content that transpires? Of course there are technologically savvy ways to block certain websites and scroll through previous online history, but how do you prevent him from engaging in damaging activity?
It may be awkward to have open and candid conversations with your child about their online affairs, but it is necessary to teach effective boundaries regarding what is and is not appropriate. You may assume that your child could never be capable of sexting or disseminating graphic information, but calling attention to these issues is paramount for prevention.
- If he has a social media account, be his “friend.” This way, you can keep tabs on any online activity that gets posted and he might think twice about posting incriminating dialogue or images. If he does not accept your “friendship” request the login information to their account to casually peruse the content of their online engagements. This privilege should not be abused but rather as a tool to get a feel for what goes on behind the scenes. If he refuses, explain to him the value of this function and that this does not compromise trust but is an opportunity to maintain consistency with parental expectations and child actions. To have online accounts is a privilege and if open communication and awareness cannot be agreed upon, deactivating these accounts can be an option to ensure adequate guidelines are followed.
- Communicate the do’s and don’ts of online media engagement including what is allowed to be posted, what is not allowed, and why. Let him know the boundaries up front so that he has a clear idea of what will be tolerated behavior. Convey to him that he can reach out to you if he ever feels uncomfortable by kids sharing graphic content and that this sharing of information is not punishable but rather is effective in problem-solving real life scenarios as they arise.
- To prevent, handle, and manage “sexting,” a calm, inviting atmosphere needs to exist. You can set this boundary upon your child first getting a phone or instant messenger that there needs to be a level of open communication for children to share situations of peer pressure and demonstrate responsibility. Having a phone or internet privileges, like any other skill, requires education and practical experiences. Without the opportunity to dialogue about what is going well and not so well, the child cannot cultivate the independent skills to navigate challenging situations effectively.