Sexting teens!

Life coach and motivational speaker Godfrey Madanhire offers some practical advice for parents on sexting: How to spot it when your kids are doing it, and how to avoid it.

What is “Sexting” and how does it happen?

Sexting refers to a wide range of communication centred on sexual themes. This can include flirting, discussions of explicit acts, sending provocative images and arranging to meet people with the intention of engaging in adult behaviour.

What are the different communication channels used for sexting?

Originally sexting mainly occurred via text message, hence the name. Nowadays, though, there are multitudes of ways young people can communicate with one another quickly and cheaply. These include social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, messaging services like Whatsapp, BBM and Mxit, and online forums which can be found all over the internet. There are so many other sites or platforms within these categories that any kind of monitoring is extremely difficult.

What are the dangers of sexting?

Sexting can easily get children into trouble, often without them realising what they’re doing. A lack of maturity can lead to bad decisions such as agreeing to meet someone with the implication of sexual activity or posting compromising photographs online. This can easily result in a young person finding themselves in a situation they’re not prepared for and open them up to psychological harm and distress. You only have to watch the news to see how common it is for compromising photograph’s to find their way onto the internet, something which can catastrophic for someone going through the difficult process of growing up
There is also the problem of anonymity, particularly when it comes to forums or message boards. In these situations it can be very difficult to tell whether or not who you’re talking to is who they say they are. Such a situation is a breeding ground for sexual predators and other unsavoury characters. Unfortunately, children are usually quite trusting and this is what causes them to interact with these potentially dangerous individuals.

How can you educate your child about sexting?

Anybody with children needs to talk to them about it and make them aware of how it can happen and what to be wary of. Educate them about the kinds of people they need to avoid and the actions that are likely to get them in trouble. Be careful, though, sex can be a difficult topic for family members to talk about and you don’t want to risk alienating one another. Instead, focus on encouraging your child to come to you if they feel uneasy about something so that you can offer advice. Most importantly, impress on them the importance of being cautious and not going through with anything that doesn’t feel right.

What to do if you think your child is sexting?

If you think your child is sexting you need to speak to them and try to prevent the situation from developing any further.  While it’s certainly possible to snoop around on their phone or laptop, this won’t foster a relationship of trust between the two of you and will only serve to drive them away from you. Approach them nicely and ask what they’re doing on their phone or laptop. Your first instinct might be to take these devices away from them, but this should only be used as a more severe punishment. Even if they won’t admit to it, talk it through with them and point out what could go wrong, if they were doing it. If it’s just a minor incident, intervening now can go some way to pre-empting any incidents that might happen later on.

Encouraging your children to get out and about is rarely a bad thing, by getting them to go out with their friends, even if it’s just to go shopping, you’re forcing them to put their phone away and interact with people face-to-face. By breaking that reliance on a phone or the internet as their only way of communication, you are making it less likely that they will find themselves engaging in unsuitable behaviour.

Godfrey Madanhire is one of Southern Africa’s leading life coaches and motivational speakers. See more from him at
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