How to maintain open lines of communication–from a mom and teens’ perspective [Guest Post]

This blog post is by Sharon Hamilton, founder of Educate2Protect and KidPhone Advocate, two organizations created to educate children and parents about cell phone risks and provide the necessary tools and information to help parents protect and against sexting, texting while driving, and predators.

The following conversation between Sharon and her 15 year old son Ryan, represents the kind of conversation parents should be having with their teens about unsafe cell phone use like sexting.

Mom:  As parents, we have a tough job keeping up with technology and all the associated risks.

Ryan:  But, as new things come out, I want to try them.  We don’t think about any risks in using them.   We just want to fit in, be cool, and stay up with the technology.

Mom:  In the news, you continually see Sexting as an issue.  I’ve seen articles on the internet that suggest sexting may attribute to the rise in teen pregnancy.  What do you think?

Ryan:  Really? I didn’t know that. If it’s a guy’s picture being passed around, I would be like…eww, that’s gross.  But, a girl’s picture is usually sent to be flirty.  They probably don’t give much thought, it’s usually a spur of the moment type thing.

Mom:  Knowing that sexting can sometimes lead to cyber-bullying when put in the hands of enemies like what happened to Jessica Logan, and knowing that nothing really goes away on the internet, many could have copied the pictures and reposted elsewhere.  What would be your advice?

Ryan:  Either make sure you can trust who you’re sending it to, or just don’t do it.

Mom:  Jessica trusted her boyfriend of 3 months to keep it confidential.

Ryan: Oh, that’s not nearly long enough.  Plus guys think it’s funny to send around those kinds of pictures.

Mom:  Knowing that pictures are posted online and through the cell phone, which again, may never go away if downloaded and reposted, do you think the time frame of the relationship really matters?

Ryan:  Yes, I think it should be at least 6 months to a year because then you can actually begin to trust the person.

Mom: What happens when you break up?  What happens to that trust?  And really–what is the purpose of sexting anyway?

Ryan:  I guess to just keep the spark alive in a relationship.

Mom: As a mom, you know, I have genuine concerns relating to this type of behavior.  What do you think a parent should do if their daughter is sexting?  You as a male, wouldn’t have anything to risk in this?  Think of it as, what would be your view if you found out your sister was doing it?

Ryan: The parent should go and research who their daughter is sexting, kind of like a background check.

Mom:  What would be the purpose of the background check?

Ryan: So that you can see exactly what type of person your daughter is talking to and ensure there is not a criminal record.

Mom: But most high school kids don’t have records and you can’t find out much about them other than peer feedback if even.  Being a mom, you don’t have access to that kind of information.

Ryan:  You can talk to a principal, coaches, teachers, or police to get information on the kid.

Mom: But your responses are suggesting the parent go along with it if the person that they’re sexting checks out.  As a mom, I would want to prevent it to start with but also, stop it if it were started.  How does a parent stop it from happening because your response almost condones the behavior?

Ryan: It’s kind of like sex education in the school system where they’re handing out condoms to help protect the kids because they know they can’t stop it, They just want the kids to be safe while doing it.

Mom: Ugh! Isn’t there a better response you can come up with that helps proactively teach these kids the consequences of their actions?  Knowing kids have taken their own lives because of innocent actions such as this that they couldn’t take back.  Imagine how many there must be where we don’t see the headlines and it goes unreported as sexting and cyber-bullying.

Ryan: Show them some of the real life examples of what has happened.  It’s not going to be like you can just tell them not to do it and they won’t do it.

Mom:  I realize because you’re not a girl and not motivated by the consequences, the proactive prevention is hard to fathom in terms of a solution.  But let’s think about it if you were a participant.  At age 16, if you passed around a “sext” picture you received, you could be charged with child pornography.  This could mean being added to a sex offenders list and having to register.

Ryan:  That’s extreme, is that really happening?

Mom: Yes, and guess what? The people creating and sending the naked pictures can also be charged with distributing child pornography even if it’s a picture of themselves.  There is a lot more to it.  There was a boy in Indiana who spent time in juvenile hall because his coach found it and reported it on his phone.  Then we get to the girls’ side of the equation.

Ryan: You mentioned they could be charged too.  But, I don’t get it.  If they decide to take naked picture of themselves, it’s their decision.  It shouldn’t be for someone to say, you’re a criminal because you passed around a picture of yourself.

Mom: Yes, but a minor under the age of 18 is creating and re-distributing child pornography.  Then there’s the aspect that it never really goes away.  Your words, something sent and meant to keep the spark alive in a relationship…well, that simple act can stay on the internet forever.  So now, down the road, they are pursuing a career and those pictures come back to haunt them.  You have female friends, and you can help guide them down the right path, right?

Ryan:  I would look out for my friends and tell them they probably shouldn’t be doing it.  I would also explain about the different laws.  If I didn’t know, I’m sure they don’t.  Either way, they may not be able to trust the person, and depending on the person’s personality, and motives, their picture may never be safe and fall into the wrong hands besides never leave the internet. So forget that promising career when you get out of high school or college.

For more information about sexting and parent/teen communication, visit http://kidphoneadvocate.info.

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