Teen Mistakes | Sexting Bullying

Anthony Weiner is in the news again. Apparently, more photos and conversations from his sexting, sex chatting days have surfaced. I'm sure this isn't a shock to may people. While learning about the latest developments, I began to wonder if parents understand that Mr. Weiner represents an ongoing problem among teens.

Sexting is on the rise among our teens. What's worse is now that social media is everywhere, it is also used as a bullying tool. All it takes is a young girl/boy take a naked picture of her/himself. Then, she sends it to someone she's presumably interested in. Before you know it, that photo goes viral. Or someone uses it a blackmail.

This is becoming more common, especially since so many teenagers now have cell phones. Imagine your daughter or son's naked picture appearing on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and elsewhere. How do you combat that? Teens have become suicidal over this. What makes it worse, is that your teen is unlikely to share the problem with you due to their mortification. There have been several cases of sexting bullying in the media. Jessica Logan was 18 years old when she committed suicide related to sexting bullying in 2008.  http://on.today.com/139ZVbb. Hope Witsell was a 13 year old girl who did the same in 2009. http://on.today.com/14HqPxr

It's important to have open communication with your teen about the dangers of sexting and sex chats. Prevention is key. Remember, even if your teen isn't doing this, and hopefully they are not, it is likely they know someone who is sexting. What if it's one of their friends? We encourage our teens to share with us if their friends are having problems such as depression. We need to add sexting to the list.

So when is the best time to have this conversation? Before your teen has a phone is the time to start. Start by explaining what the responsibility of a cell phone entails. A great way to start is simply by asking your teen, "Do you know what sexting is?" There is no gentle tip-toeing around the topic. Direct and honest communication is best with teens. In addition, explain that there are consequences of sexting. It is good to discuss that some of these consequences include school suspension, school expulsion, colleges might read this if it's in the sexter's school file, embarrassment, depression, police involvement, and more. A great tool is using media stories, such as Anthony Weiner's story. Ask your teen, "What do you think about that?" Consider discussing Jessica Logan and Hope Witsell's suicides. Sexting bullying and sexting in general are common teen mistakes that can be avoided.

Nancy M. Silva, MD, FAAP

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