Circle of Moms member Cynthia is worried that her 10-year-old is going to start 'sexting.' Her daughter is entering the tween years, and she's already "flirting a little too much with her boyfriend over her cell phone." Will her daughter will be tempted or pressured into sharing inappropriate images and messages digitally? "There are a lot of stories online [about] kids sending naked pictures ... and even being charged with child pornography! I'm not sure if she has done this, but I am worried she might," says Cynthia.
Phone messaging is now so commonplace among middle-schoolers that Cynthia is one of many Circle of Moms members who are talking about what parents can do to keep it from from becoming a doorway to inappropriate, hurtful, or harmful sexual banter. Here, they share ideas for preventing kids from sexting.
1. Set and Communicate Limits for Phone Usage
Simply handing over a cell phone to a tween without setting rules and explaining the consequences for inappropriate behavior can set parents up for surprising outcomes. Megan J. made sure to talk to her daughter about both the risks of sexting and getting "hot and heavy" with a boy too quickly. Karen L. suggests spelling out the consequences for doing something that crosses the lines, like "sending or forwarding a naked picture."
Other Circle of Moms members suggest deciding ahead of time who your child can and can't talk to or text on the phone. Tamara W. limits her children to calling and texting only "me, my husband, my parents and the house, maybe their oldest brother since he may need to get them from school if something happens."
2. Talk About Sex and Dating
In addition to talking to your child about what happens in the digital world today and what is appropriate or inappropriate, moms also need to have candid conversations about sex and dating during the tween years. As Circle of Moms member Teresa points out, when a tween abuses his or her cell phone privilege, there are often underlying issues that parents need to address: "the cell phone is 'only the 'messenger' so to speak."
She talks to her own twin daughters "about how it's fine to have friendships with boys, but they need to keep their main focus on their school and gymnastics until they've at least graduated from high school." She has also tried to emphasize to them that when they're ready to date, "they need to be looking for a guy [who] respects them and their interests and goals."
3. Monitor Your Tween's Texts
"Check the phone, privacy be damned," says Melissa M. She's one of several moms who assert, unapologetically, that privacy is a secondary consideration when you child's "safety [is] at stake."
To those who still hesitate, Shelly H. says, "People, it is no longer 1990 and they are no longer having conversations on the kitchen phone. Prime example is we had a friend walk past his daughter's phone and on a whim took a look at her texts. Let's just say the girl had been doing things that would make porn stars blush and no stone had been left unturned. She had been doing these things while at a friend's house. Welcome to 2011. Better to invade a child's privacy some than to sit by being a passive parent and have them hurt."
Shelly H. says many parents rely on Internet monitoring systems to track their children's cell phone usage. "A lot of our friends use them to keep tabs on their kids. You pay a fee and it will send you every text your kids send and receive."
Alternatively, Karen L. adds, as long as your child is on your cell phone plan, "you can get a copy of the texting record." She suggests monitoring their usage by checking that record periodically, and taking action "if you find something inappropriate."
4. Take the Phone Away If Needed
If setting limits, talking about underlying issues, and monitoring their usage don't work and you find your child texting too much or inappropriately, it's time to take the phone away. As Ivette shares, ""This morning I found text messages in my 10-year-old daughter's phone involving her and a male classmate in her class. It said things like, I love you so much, hottie, babe, sweet cheeks, and kiss[es]. I confronted her about it and all she can say was 'sorry.' I didn't have time to discuss the issues at hand because I had to get her to school, but I confiscated her phone and told her I wasn't done with her."
5. Omit Texting from Your Child's Phone Plan
One way to sidestep the problem of sexting completely is simply to not include texting in your tween's cell phone plan. "I'm a mom of 5, ages 7-17, and I really don't think 10-year-olds are mature enough for cell phones," says Teresa D. "They text things and respond to things that they don't really understand or are ready for. Get your daughter a cell that doesn't have text and very few minutes to be used for emergency or to contact you only. Try to explain to her that she [could] get herself in a situation she's not ready for."
6. Forget the cell phone all together
Several Circle of Moms members question the wisdom of giving your tween a cell phone to begin with. "I'm sorry to say, but I think 10 years old is too young for cell phones, period," says Kelli, adding that kids' access to and abuse of cell phones can make them grow up too fast. (Related Reading: Why I Postponed Buying My Daughter A Cell Phone)
How do you keep your tween from sexting?
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