"I do understand that some parents would rather stick a needle in their ear that talk about sex or sexting"
Some of you will have read the piece on sexting written by Sally O’Reilly, an IAHIP, ICP and EAP accredited Counselling Psychologist.
Here's the 'how-to' follow up.
So before we start into it, I want you to know that I do understand that some parents would rather stick a needle in their ear that talk about sex or sexting, even to each other! However the somewhat annoying reality is this - we are the grown ups and it’s our job to do this. Otherwise online pornography may do it for you. 'Nudes' and 'three-ways' are already part of the vernacular for the average thirteen year old. Can you remember being thirteen?
Here are some (scary) questions worth asking:
- Is your child on social media?
- Have you seen their profile(s)?
- Do they have multiple accounts (sometimes on the same app)
- Are you familiar with these platforms?
- How many phones do they have? (Are you sure about that answer?)
- Do they know how to use the privacy settings?
- Who are they texting?
- Are they sexting?
- What are they being asked to do and by whom?
- Are they sexually active?
If you're answering "OMG I don't know! #panic!" to these, I assure you it doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. It just means you have normal kids, who are good at concealing things (maybe), and who may not yet feel able to discuss sexual matters with you. Irish teens have one of the highest sexting rates in Europe.
- Know the tech that your child uses and learn how to use it yourself. YouTube will have clips for each app, as do other sites like Common Sense Media and Webwise. Look out for the newer music and gaming apps that aren't typical social media ones. Then make sure they have their privacy settings set correctly: to ‘Private’. They might think they do, but they might be wrong, even if they appear tech savvy.
- Ask your kids what they’re doing online. Yes, you are being nosy. But you are also helping to keep them safe. And showing an interest in a huge part of most young people’s lives.
- Who are they connecting with online and how? Do they use video? Teenagers will be using social networking sites more than younger kids. Feel OK about asking to see what they’re doing, check their phones, their photographs, their geotagging etc. (if you don't know what a Geotag is, do Google it!).
- Use your own social networking sites in their presence. Talk to them about it, show them things that interest you, if age appropriate. This normalises healthy use of technology.
- Remind them often that everything that goes online stays online. As in, forever. Even Snapchat images and text. EVERYTHING can be screenshot. Suggest they get into the habit of asking themselves if they would still post that pic or say that thing if you were there watching? If not, then is it wise to press on?
- Ask their opinion on sexting. Someday you will see something on their phone and that's an ideal opportunity to ask things like:
- Why do you think he posted that pic?
- Why is he/she posing like that?
- Would you do that?
- How many people can see that?
- What happens if someone they don’t like sees it?
- Could I screenshot that and send it to whoever I want now?
7. Even though you might squirm - maybe you already are! - ask them what they think about sex, porn and sexting, and what their peers think. Tell them if you're uncomfortable - I assure you they will be too!! But this most likely will ease once you start. You might even have a giggle with them! And sex is supposed to be fun. I think a lot of teens don't know that - indeed, a lot of adults don't know that, sadly. Use videos like this if you don’t have the words.
8. Have tech rules and insist that they are adhered to. Even by you. If you break family rules you won't be taken seriously - which is fair enough! When there are family rules kids will be safer - and maybe even relieved. These rules can be about time spent online, sticking to age limits on gaming sites, (do you want your 12 year old learning how to pick up and kill prostitutes on over-18 games like GTA?) meal-time bans, bedroom no-fly zones. Receiving texts up to 3am on a school night is exhausting, so the ability to blame you for taking the phone off them could provide much needed rest and escape.
9. Know how to check chat logs and history for inappropriate content and let them know you’re doing it. Doing this without their knowledge rarely ends well. If you do learn something then it’s hard to talk about it because first you have to admit where you learned it! Then you’ll have a whole other argument on your hands. Also, here's a thing - if they know you’re able to see and that you will check regularly, then they will feel safer. Even if they fight you on it.
Being annoyed at you is normal and part of their job. Your job is to do your best to not take that personally. Meanwhile we can teach children that they have rights: to be comfortable, to enjoy themselves, to pace themselves, to be safe from sexual predators. Remember that sexual predators aren’t always dirty old men, they can be young men, sometimes classmates, and sometimes girls and women. Not all predators want to meet up: more often than not in fact, they want photos and videos.
Everyone parents differently and this is no exception. What your friends do, or what I suggest may not feel right for you. You're in charge, not your kids or the people who are talking to them online! Good luck with it!
This content has been checked and certified by Cyber Safe Ireland whose mission is to empower children, parents and teachers to navigate the online world in a stronger, smarter and safer way.