Blog Post by Pam Tudin, Clinical Psychologist (Copywrite 2019)
For teens, there’s no such thing as the digital world, it’s their world. There’s also no such thing as privacy. For parents, there’s no such thing as staying on top of it, the online space is constantly changing. When it comes to sexting or sending inappropriate images, there’s also no such thing as my child would never’. There are no longer good kids and the not so good kids. Knowing that 68% of all kids are going to send a sext (the current statistic in South Africa), how do we as therapists, help parents to manage this issue?
The crucial aspect of getting tweens and teens to be honest about sexting is to start the conversations early before they are really old enough to really be engaging in it. If that bird has already flown the coop, do not to panic (We often put our children in therapy AFTER an event). Either way, try to start the conversations broadly and then, calmly and without judgement, narrow the conversation into a place where you are talking about their own circle of friends, and finally themselves. Over time, go through these conversation starters. Sometimes it is easy to have these chats in the car, or casually while doing the Saturday morning errands. The point being, don’t labour the issue, go in lightly leaving room for humour and diversion.
1. Do you know anyone that has sent a sext?
2. Do you have friends that sext?
3. Why do you think some teenagers sext and some don’t? Do you think it is thrilling or is it a way of securing a possible relationship with someone else? Is it just to stay cool? Maybe they are doing it just because everyone else is doing it. (Discuss these reasons fully). The aim here is to really stave off from judging. Really listen to their answers, their anxieties, their fears around exclusion).
4. Similarly, you may want to ask your child about sending nude pictures of themselves. Start off asking the broader questions first: Do you know of any older kids you know have sent revealing photos of themselves or others via social media? Do you know of any ofyour friends who have sent revealing photos of themselves or others via social media? Are you tempted to send a pic to a close friend or boyfriend/girlfriend? Acknowledge the thrill factor. Acknowledge that it makes him/her feel connected to the other person. Your tween or teen needs to feel heard.
5. What do you think you would do or say if someone asked you to send him/her a nude photo of yourself? What if he/she really pressured you?
6. What do you think could happen to you if you were caught posting/sending a nude photo of yourself or someone else via social media/online? (Discuss the family’s consequences as a result of your tween or teen breaching his/her social media contract with you, as well as the emotional, social and legal consequences).
7. If you found yourself in a situation where you were involved in sexting in some way (directly or indirectly) and you didn’t want to tell your folks about it, is there another adult in your life you think you could confine in or go to for help?
8. Can you promise me that if you chose to send a sext/nude picture of yourself and you found yourself struggling that you would either come to me or that person?
9. If your child has already sent a sext/nude pic of him/herself, reassure your child that even if you do not approve of the behaviour, you will always be around to help them get out of a situation if they need you to. This means while there will be consequences, you remain the parent who is also there to support. It is vital to state this as suicide feels like an option to many children, once they have acted impulsively. We cannot emphasize this strongly enough: Be the forgiving and assisting parent before you arethe outraged parent. The time for consequences will always be available at a later stage.
Pam Tudin (together with Ashley Hurwitz) is the co-founder of CHATT (Conversations Happening All the Time). In their book, “FORTNITE, FOMO AND OTHER F WORDS”, they move away from the horror and fear and provide solution-focused, practical and fun tools for really managing the online world of our favourite teens and tweens. The book is available in both hard and softcopy on www.chattprogramme.com