With our children becoming more tech-savvy by the day, playing iPad games before they know what games even are. They share their feelings online even before they can speak or understand what emotions are. They even have virtual friends before they start school. It should come as no surprise to us that they may already be sexting before they know what sex is. Hence the urgent need to help them understand the dangers of the online world.
Somehow, whether it’s their short attention span, or its the difficulty in breaking key concepts down to their level of comprehension, with kids, talking about serious issues is a delicate process. That’s why we have come up with some helpful tips to guide you in discussing sexting prevention with your ‘under 6-year-old’ child.
In case you are unfamiliar with the term, sexting is the sending or receiving of sexually suggestive text messages, images or videos via a mobile phone or any mobile device. Sexting can lead to A LOT of problems for your child, most notably online grooming, which is a significant source of concern for parents of young children.
So how do I talk to my child about sexting?
Let’s not forget that sexting is not solely sending of sexually charged images or videos but receiving them as well. Now your child may not have control over what he/she receives online, but this is where you come in.
Because not everyone online has good intentions, and your kids can be taken advantage of, there are vital things you need to let them know about the internet. Including the reasons you shouldn’t allow children have their internet devices unsupervised.
We have created the following steps/checkpoints to help. (Assuming you’ve already given them the sex talk)
Step One: Start before an incident
Prevention, they say, is better than cure. Great prevention strategies include:
- Use the internet together as a family, practising internet safety. Children learn what you do, not what you say.
- Study the games and apps your kids use. Protect their online accounts from being accessed by strangers and people you do not approve of online.
- It will profit your child more if they are in the know before incidents occur. Let them know that if they by any chance receive an image or video whose content they aren’t sure of or that includes exposed human body parts, they should be comfortable bringing it to you.
- Reduce internet use by agreeing to what devices they are allowed to use, when they can use them (e.g. after homework), and for how long. You may decide that they should not use internet enabled devices unsupervised, for instance.
Step Two: Start Simple
Just because the subject is serious doesn’t mean the conversation has to be intense.
- Be playful. Start with something as simple as ‘hey champ, let me tell you the story of Snapchat’ or ‘tell me about your internet friends’.
- Use stories, songs and catchy innocent names to teach them which part of their bodies are private. The parts that they should not show to anyone, on or offline.
Step Three: Cover the basics
The conversation about sexting should be an open one. So whichever way it goes, do not forget to include the following key points.
- Inappropriate online activity: let them know that they should not view or send any image or video whose content they aren’t sure of that includes exposed body parts.
- Teach them the importance of telling an adult whenever they come across content that is disturbing. Be their go-to person.
- The need to never share inappropriate content. Regardless of circumstance.
Step Four: Utilize Parental Tools
- Several tools have been created to enable parents to control children’s activity online and on their smartphones. Such apps make it so that the children cannot download things without a password only the parent possesses.
- Another method is to scan through websites and apps before your child can use them.
- Frequently used pages can be added to favourites for easy access, and so that the child doesn’t stumble unto a different, and likely upsetting, site in the process of typing the link address.
- It also helps if devices are places in the more general areas of the house where people are more likely to be. Such as in the living room or kitchen.
Step Five: Teach Them Boundaries
Boundaries are essential for everyone. Adults and children alike. So, it is important to teach them about boundaries from an early age.
- Let bedtime be bedtime. No phones allowed in their bedrooms late at night.
- Let them know that their property and bodies are theirs so that they do not send pictures of themselves to strangers or rebroadcast or forward pornographic images if received.
- Teach them not allow anyone, (even adults you know) to take a naked/semi-naked picture of them. And let them be free with you to tell you if anyone tries to.
- Emphasise that they also not take naked or semi-naked pictures of themselves or others.
In addition to these steps, help your kids understand that when a photo is posted online or sent to someone else, it is still out there and accessible forever.
Let’s as parents encourage openness, by having an open but also concerned tone, not angry or blaming. Be gentle in educating them. Do not use any fear instilling technique and don’t just go about clouting a bunch of commandments; lead by example. Remember, children learn what you do and not what you say, so practice internet safety.