There are a number of ways you can steer your kids away from the dangers of sexting. Let’s take a look at some practical strategies.

Don’t give your teen a cell phone with a camera. It simply isn’t necessary for every child to own a state-of-the-art smartphone—at least not until he has reached the level of maturity and responsibility required to use one. If you need to stay in touch with your teen, buy him a simple flip phone equipped with basic calling capabilities. If sexting seems like a potential problem, remove the texting option from your mobile phone plan. It can be as straightforward as that. In this article, Danny Huerta provides some insights on when to get your child a cellphone.

Develop responsibility by providing phone privileges on the basis of proven maturity. Shape your child’s character. Teach her sound moral principles. Help her to be more grown-up by guiding her step by step through the stages of social, personal, and sexual self-awareness and self-control. Don’t simply hand out phones as a matter of entitlement or to gain the cool parent award from your teen.

Be aware of the motivations and deeper psychological factors that lead kids to get involved in sexting. Sit down and talk with your child. Get inside his head and try to see things from his point of view. Be aware of the pressures that could be driving him to do things he might prefer not to do—peer expectations, for example, as well as self-esteem issues, threats from bullies, or requests from an aggressive girlfriend. Acknowledge the emotions that might influence him to do something as edgy and risky as sending a sexually explicit photo over the phone. Let him know that you understand the allure and the mystery of sexuality, the thrill and excitement of pushing boundaries.

Ask questions like, “Are there healthier ways of satisfying your curiosity about the sexual side of life?” or “Can you think of other ways to experience excitement and adventure?” If you discuss the subject openly and honestly, you’ll probably be able to come up with a long list of good alternatives to sexting.

State your expectations clearly. Draw up a set of rules for phone and computer use. Discuss these guidelines with your child and post them in a place where the whole family can see them. Reserve the right to monitor calls and review text messages. Let your teen know that you will not tolerate secrets, that everything relating to phone use will be kept open and aboveboard, and that all erased messages will be automatically regarded as bad messages. Make it clear that random spot-checks can be expected. Most importantly, establish and make perfectly clear what the consequences will be for violations of the rules, and follow through when infringements occur.

Warn your child in no uncertain terms about the dangers of sexting. Make the discussion part of a larger, comprehensive conversation about sex, sexual attitudes, sexual morality, dating, and the consequences of premarital sexual activity. Point out that there are serious emotional, psychological, and spiritual risks associated with this kind of counterfeit intimacy. And remind your kids that digital images never truly go away.

Sexting: Warning Signs

As a parent, you have a responsibility to keep tabs on your child’s online activities and cyber-behavior. Here are a few signs that your teen may be involved in sexting:

  • Your child spends large amounts of time online or on the phone, especially at night.
  • You find pornography on your child’s computer or suggestive photos on her phone.
  • Your child receives phone calls or text messages from people you don’t know or makes calls, sometimes long-distance, to numbers you don’t recognize.
  • Your child receives mail, gifts, or packages from someone you don’t know.
  • Your child turns the computer monitor off or quickly changes the screen when you enter the room.
  • Your child becomes withdrawn from the family.
  • Your child is using an online account belonging to someone else.

It’s All in the Family

As parents, we need to assume full responsibility for the sexual education and development of our kids. If you have pre-teens or adolescents, warn them about the potential consequences of ill-advised, impulsive sexual messaging. Above all, let them know that it is never acceptable to exchange sexual photos or texts with anyone for any reason. In our technological age, this kind of open communication between parents and children is more important than ever.