According to researchers at the Education Development Center in Newton, Massachusetts, 13% of teens involved in sexting reported a suicide attempt during the time interval during which the sexting occurred. I agree with lead researcher Shari Kessel Schneider that association does not imply causation. Nonetheless, whenever there is a link between teens’ behavior and emotional distress, parents should be more than just a little concerned. “Teens will be teens” just doesn’t apply.
In case you are not convinced, consider that more teens are sexting than parents are probably aware. Parents — take your collective heads out of the sand. Of the teens surveyed in this study, 10% of the males and 11% of the females admitted to sending one of these images in the past year. These teens were not coerced into making these confessions, nor did they get a prize for honesty. (And, we know that this is probably under-reporting, as is typical of self-report.)
This should be a call to action of all parents of teens to take back control of technology. Here are some things you can start doing today:
- Set rules around the use of cell phones.
- Monitor your teens use of technology — not constantly, but on a random basis. This is sort of like the technological equivalent of a random drug test.
- Have your teens charge their cell phones outside of their bedroom at night.
- Teach your teens about the dangers associated with sexting, including the speed at which messages can be sent to those they weren’t intended for.
- Encourage your teens NOT to respond to any sext messages that they receive.
Good luck. This won’t be easy — but nothing important ever is, right?
About Barbara Greenberg, PhD
Barbara is a Ph.D. clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of adolescents and their well-intentioned but exhausted parents. She is the co-author of Teenage as a Second Language-A Parents Guide to Becoming Bilingual with Jennifer Powell-Lunder PsyD and the co-creator of the website http://www.talkingteenage.com.