Years ago, when most of us were 16 years old, one of our biggest responsibilities was to spend 12 months practicing and then passing our driving test in order to receive a plastic card of freedom… our driver’s license. Our ability to drive allowed us the freedom to spend time with friends, make new friends and see the world through our own eyes. However, earning a license was also coupled with never-ending home discussions in which parents would teach us about responsibility and safety to ourselves and others when driving.

Fast forward 20 and 30 years and the need to know these same responsibilities and safety methods are still relevant when driving a car, but also now when gifting our children (who are often younger than 16 years old) a smartphone.

If only our kids had to earn a license to text too.

Understanding personal responsibility and safety in using a smartphone, which allows our children access to the world and the world access to them, requires just as much preparation and discussion ahead of time as does earning a driver’s license.

What training are we providing our children on how to use the Internet?  What oversight do we have over their phone use? What expectations have we set with our children regarding their phone use? Have we created an open communication environment where our child can talk to us when they are confused or in need? These are typical questions needing to be addressed before handing over a smartphone. However, adding that phones provide two-way media access to our children we now must consider if we’ve addressed what normal and respectful sexual behavior is and the seriousness of sexting (taking/sending nude images via text message, email or social media posts) before we place our children in a precarious situation of not knowing what to do if a sexting situation arises.

Still not convinced serious and on-going talks with your children about phone use, just like driving a car, is needed?

“In recent studies, including by WiredSafety, CosmoGirl.com, and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, one in five teen girls admits to taking a sexually-provocative, explicit or nude photo of themselves and sharing it with others (most often their boyfriends). Similarly one in six teen boys admits sharing these ‘private’ images, often during a fight or after the relationship ends. Nearly half of the teen boys interviewed admit having seen sexual images of classmates, whether sent to them directly or forwarded by another classmate.” [Read full article here]

Even closer to home here in the Las Vegas valley, high schoolers told SM@RTConnections in 2014, during a number of educational outreach events that sexting (or “nudes”) happens.  Equally as important as knowing it occurs is ensuring our kids know what is appropriate and inappropriate sexual behavior is as nowadays much of it is created and transmitted via smartphones.

Comments from high school boys had included such things as:

  • They would be inclined to sext if they knew the person.
  • Not everyone sexts, but it’s typically girls who send nudes and boys don’t have to reciprocate.
  • Butt photos are easy to obtain from girls.
  • Most girls don’t care about sexting photos so long as their face is not in the image so they can deny it was them.
  • Many high school student use private photo vaults to secure their risque photos from prying eyes.

Folks, this is just one side of the coin (i.e. boys), their take on sexting and input on how it is increasingly commonplace among smartphone users their age.

We ask parents to take time to talk with their kids about responsible smartphone use, not unlike an ongoing discussion would take place for a driver’s license. Talks should also include what is right and wrong sexual behavior and the seriousness of sexting – regardless if they are a participant, recipient or knowing bystander of someone who is involved with sexting. For tips on how to start your discussion on smartphones with your child, visit NetSmartz.org.