Sexting Part 2-Setting the Ground Rules

In There's a Stranger in My House by Dr James Wellborn

This article is the second in a series on how parents can address the issue of sexting with their teenage children.  The first part of this series emphasized the importance of educating yourself as a parent and talking to your kids about sexting as well as internet and social media issues.

Set the ground rules.  Once you have talked to your kids about the issues around sexting and internet use it is important to set some clear ground rules.  These are some of the sure you will need to be sure to address.

  • Passwords.  You wouldn’t (I hope) allow your teenager to wander daily, unsupervised and without your awareness, in the bus station of your city.  You wouldn’t allow them to strike up a relationship with a 20, 30, 40, 50 year old person you didn’t know.  You would want to know who has regular contact with your kid.  The internet makes all this possible.  You should have the password to every one of your kid’s electronic devices, accounts and any other online presence.  No password, no access for your kid.  A related requirement is that you are a friend on all their accounts, e.g., Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, etc.  Any account that sends messages and information to other people should include have you on the list.  Note:  While you can access their accounts any time you want because you are the parent, it is a good idea to enter their accounts using their passwords only when they are sitting next to you.  It allows you the opportunity to talk about why you are concerned.  It is a way to acknowledge the importance of their privacy while also fulfilling your responsibility as a parent.  It feels a little less invasive if they are right there with you rather than finding out after the fact.  It also makes it look less like you are “snooping” behind their back.
  • Personal information.  Have specific rules about the personal information your kid is allowed to post on the internet or reveal to other people.  Their name, birthday, age, school and city of residence is pretty much a wash given how many ways your kids friends will provide this through comments and posts.  However, their home address, cell phone numbers, linking  their cell phone GPS to their social media accounts; these are all things you can do something about.  It is a uphill battle but try to get your kid thinking about boundaries, privacy and minimizing any potential damage.
  • Acceptable words and information.  It can be really surprising how unguarded and frank kids are using electronic communication.  It really is the case that they consider this the same as a private conversation.  It is one thing to speak profanely and graphically when you are hanging with your friends.  It is another to commit it to writing (electronically speaking).  Review what you expect of your kid regarding their language and the kind of personal thoughts and information they reveal through their public media presence.  Check regularly and require them to scrub the offending words and thoughts.  Check each night.  After 3-5 days of appropriate communication, drop back to random checks.  If they continue to have a problem, require them to earn access to their social media/texting/email each day determined by having a day without unacceptable communication.  They have to earn it day by day until they have 3-5 days in a row.
  • Sexting or chat rooms visits.  Sexting is completely banned.  The focus of this series is about how to discuss the issues about sexting in particular.  Chat rooms should also be completely banned.  The benefits of participating in a chat room of any sort is far outweighed by the potential cost that comes from having intimate conversations about personal issues with God knows who.
  • Apps.  All applications for cell phone or other electronic media must be preapproved by you.  If you find un-preapproved apps on your kid’s device, delete all apps including the offending one.  Start over with them having to get your approval for reloading their apps one at a time every 3-5 days.
  • Pictures (and tagging).  Have specific criteria for what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable pictures your kid can post on their sites or forward to people.  It can be useful to occasionally search the pictures of your kid on their friend’s sites.  These photos are often tagged with your kid’s name and linked to their social media account.
  • Private vs Public information.  Have requirements about who qualifies for public versus private information.  Your kids accounts should not be open to the general public.
  • Friends vs friends.  It is necessary to distinguish between what a friend really is versus who is called a friend.  It’s bizarre.  Your kids will argue with you (and the argument about what many of them think qualifies as a friend who has earned their confidence, trust and personal information can be ridiculous).  Take the time.  Getting this straight may save you some other kinds of trouble in the future (“I can trust him.  He’s one of my friends on Facebook.”).
  • Online bullying/harassment.  Discuss bullying and harassment.  Go over examples.  Many kids don’t recognize it even though it still has an effect.  It can be seen as just the way things are.  Make sure your kid knows to inform you if they are being bullied.  Make sure your kid knows what they can expect from you if you find out they are bullying or harassing other people.
  • Aggressive messages, threats and criminal activity.  Another thing that kids often don’t think through is that they can be held accountable by the law for angry outbursts that include aggressive responses or threating statements made to other people.    You will be able to find several examples in the national news of the ways in which kids have become part of a criminal prosecution for responding to, encouraging or being an accomplice to criminal activity (including criminal sexual assaults).  These events can bring their life to a standstill or drastically change their immediate future.  Talk to them before it happens.  Help them think through how it can go bad and what they could do to steer clear of problems.

to be continued . . .

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