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Sexting for Dummies

Ms. Vicki

I’m learning a lot about today’s teenage behavior in family therapy sessions that I facilitate. Many of these teens admit to sexting -- sending sexually explicit messages or photos via cell phones. Others say they know so many teens who are sexting so much that it is everyday behavior.

Teens tell me that they have an edge over their parents if the parents are not tech savvy. Take a look at the text lingo below and see how many of the abbreviations you recognize.

  • POS
  • TAW
  • RU/18
  • PIR
  • LMIRL
  • IMEZRU
  • KFY or K4Y

(Go to my Facebook page for the answers: dearmsvicki)

Teens can present with certain behaviors that should be a red flag for parents. For instance, is your teen very protective of their cell phone and won’t let you near it? If you enter the room when they are talking on their cell, will they leave? Are their calls very secretive and you never get to hear any of their conversation? 

If you answered yes to these questions, you may have cause for concern.

Sexting can turn a teenager’s life upside down in a matter of seconds. Once they press the “send” button on their cell phone, that photo could be forwarded to hundreds if not thousands of people.

Take a look at one recent letter I received from a high school teen:

Dear Ms. Vicki,

You don’t know me, but my mom use to read your column to me and my sisters when I was in middle school because she thought you gave good advice to teenagers.

Since my mom is a Sunday School teacher, she would take some of your articles and share them with the class when it related to one of our topics.

I’m very embarrassed because I started hanging with the wrong crowd. I just wanted to be liked by everyone. I started doing what they were doing. I tried drinking alcohol and I’ve smoked weed a few times too.

Everybody was sending nude photos and dared me to send them to some of our boyfriends. I did the same thing and sent a photo of my breast to one of my boyfriends. We’re just friends, not dating.

I’m so scared now because he forwarded the picture to his friends and his friends sent it to more people, and now it’s out of control.

I don’t even want to go to school anymore. I’m so ashamed and I’m too scared to tell my mom what happened.

My dad is away at a school and will return sometime next month. They will be so disappointed, and I know I’ve let them down.

My mom says she knows something is bothering me, but I don’t know how to tell her what I did. Do you think I should tell her I was sexting or should I just keep this a secret? I hope the worst of this is over.

Sincerely,
Dumb Decision

Dear Decision,

I’m so so sorry about all of this. I really feel bad for you. I won’t beat you up and make you feel worse because I can see that you are doing enough of that already.

As you can see, anything that you text, twitter or place on Facebook etc. is open for the world to see. I’m very concerned about everything you have been doing: drinking, smoking weed and now you are sexting.

You have to realize you have done a complete 180 from what you are being taught by your parents. Because you are so embarrassed and so afraid to tell your mother, it tells me that you know your mother loves you a lot and has really invested a lot of time trying to make sure you are headed in the right direction.

Parents should not become paralyzed with fear on this issue and do nothing. Some parents feel that there's no way they can beat our social network generation. I think social networking is great, but I think parents need to set limits with their teens. Take a look at these quick tips below.

Set limits on cell phone use. Your teen should not have 24/7 access. For example, on school nights, cell phones should be turned off. If you don’t trust your child and think they could be texting or talking on their cell all hours of the night, then parents should keep the phone.

Become more tech savvy. You should know how all technology works so you won’t be fooled. Know the operations of your teen’s cell phone, their Facebook activity, Twitter etc.

Give your teen computer access in a main room so they can be monitored. Some teens have entirely too much freedom, and parents are the last one to know when something inappropriate happens. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries.

Find out the school policy for computer use in the school library. Ask questions about computer access and security filters. Teens report that they use the computers in the school library when their parents confiscate their cell phones and computers.

Stay involved with your teen. It’s natural for teenagers to begin the process of differentiation and receive more opportunities for independence and privacy.

However, sometimes parents can have a “hands-off” approach that is detrimental to their teen. Know who your teen socializes with and make every effort to know their parents too.

Sincerely,
Ms. Vicki

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Contributor

Ms. Vicki is a native of Dallas, has been the Dear Abby for the military community since her column began in 2005. A licensed therapist and licensed clinical social worker, Ms. Vicki holds a Master of Science in social work and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology.

Ms. Vicki appears regularly on Military.com and in the Fort Campbell Courier. Her column has also appeared in the Washington (D.C.) Times and in the Heidelberg (Germany) Post Herald. She has been featured on CNN, CBS, ABC and NBC.

Looking for advice about your military life? Email Ms. Vicki here. Find Ms. Vicki on Facebook here.  Find Ms. Vicki on Twitter here.

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