Help! Junior’s sexting — What should I do?

Spotted sexually explicit messages on junior’s phone? Experts tell you how to handle the subject with them…

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You may shudder to think that your child is sharing suggestive photos of themselves, yet it is more widespread than you think.

A 2015 survey of 2,700 secondary school students showed that 4.2 per cent of upper secondary students and 1.9 per cent of lower secondary students have sent lewd images or texts on their phones. These are double the previous year’s figures.

As such behaviour becomes more prevalent among youths, unsuspecting tweens may find themselves the target of vindictive exes or “frenemies” who make these intimate images public. As a result, they might be labelled as a “slut” or friends might shun them.

“They may appear to show increasingly secretive behaviours or frequent mood changes, as well as disturbances to their sleep or changes to their appetite.”

If you chance upon your child’s sexts, Shem Yao, senior Touch Cyber Wellness coach, stresses that it’s important that you understand the situation clearly before taking any action.

Children who are affected by sexting also often display subtle behavioural changes, points out InspireJoy’s senior counsellor and play therapist Joy Ong Shu Xin. “They may appear to show increasingly secretive behaviours or frequent mood changes, as well as disturbances to their sleep or changes to their appetite.”

So, if you spot such signs, it’s time to have a heart-to-heart with junior to get to the bottom of what’s distressing them. Follow these steps…

1) Remove the explicit texts immediately

Take down any incriminating texts or sexually-suggestive images from social media or messaging platforms as soon as possible. It will prevent other users from saving them — or worse — distributing them.

While anyone can repost these, you can report posts that you want to remove from the site. Most social media platforms allow users to report — often referred to as “flag” — inappropriate posts of a sexual or offensive nature. To report a post on…

* Facebook Click on the three dots icon on the top right corner of the post. Select the “Give feedback on this post option”, then follow the given instructions.

* Instagram Click on the three dots icon on the top right corner of the post. Select the “Report Inappropriate” option, then answer the questions that follow.

* Twitter Click on the downward-pointing arrow on the top right corner of the post. Then select the “Report Tweet” option and follow the steps.

* Snapchat Press and hold on the screen as you view the post. Click on the flag icon on the bottom left-hand corner of the post. Then, select the reason for reporting the post.

When an inappropriate post is reported, the site will take steps to remove the content or reduce its reach.

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2) Ask junior to detail the sequence of events

Sit your kid down and ask them to explain the order of events leading to the present. Tell junior that they will need to be as open and honest as possible, so that you can help them. You should also promise not to get angry with them. While listening to their explanation, din’t judge or show your anger as your child may withhold information. Threatening to take away their privileges or physically punishing them isn’t the best way to encourage them to open up either.

Try to also get to know the other party who may be pressuring your child to sext ― it’s often a boy- or girlfriend who might be initiating the exchange. If this is the case, you may want to speak to the school about handling the issue. However, if you are worried that your child might be dealing with a sexual predator, you may want to lodge a police report instead.

3) Reassure your child

You can’t predict how junior may react to you after you’ve found out about their misbehaviour, either. Some youths may feel guilty, ashamed, worried or even angry, Ong notes. “Hence, we need to provide a safe space for them to feel comfortable in sharing their concerns and allow us to address them.”

Yao suggests that you get your child to address the feelings they are through, so that they will reveal their motivation for sexting. For some children, sexting is actually a manifestation of their need for attention, their need for validation from their peers, or even a longing for a relationship.

Yao explains, “The child may have an unhealthy perception of how loving relationships should be.” Ong adds that they may also behave in this manner because of peer pressure or because sexting is how they express their individuality.

For some children, sexting is actually a manifestation of their need for attention, their need for validation from their peers, or even a longing for a relationship.

As this will be a stressful time in junior’s life, do watch out for changes in their behaviour. You should also reach out to their school teachers to enlist their help in keeping an eye on them. If your child is distraught and inconsolable over the next few days following your conversation, it might be best to bring them to talk to a counsellor.

4) Remind them of the importance of staying safe online

Besides telling them the rules of safe Internet-use, you may also wish to consider installing Web filters and parental apps on your child’s devices to ensure their safety. Yao stresses that it is important that you tell your kiddo that you are just taking precautions, so that they won’t be in the same predicament ever again.

Photos: iStock

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