Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sue Scheff: SEXTING - What Parents Need to Know

Parenting resolutions are ones that you can't afford to ignore or neglect after a few weeks. One of 2009's hot and trendy topics is "sexting." What is sexting? It is the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photos electronically, primarily between cell phones.

We don't need more reminders of what sexting can cause emotionally to students. In Florida we had the sad story of cyber tragedy that ended in the suicide of 13 year-old Hope Witsell.

Here are some tips and what parents need to know and use now and in 2010. (Source: Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy):

Set time of day limits on cell phone usage: While many parents have a hard time regulating the number of texts per month and have surrendered to "unlimited texting", you can control the hours that your teen texts. We suggest determining a time when cell phones come of the pocket or out of the bedroom and are placed in a central location on a charger along with your cell phone. Kids who are permitted to keep their cell phones in their room overnight on average get less sleep and are often times texting in the middle of the night. Make the right choice in allowing your teen to obtain uninterrupted sleep by limiting the hours that they have phone access and set rules on when texting is appropriate.

Take laptops out of your child's bedroom: While computers and the Internet provide wonderful educational opportunities and help teens study, they also can provide 24 hour access to social networking sites, instant messaging and email at times when children are not supervised. By removing computers from the teen's bedroom and placing them in a central location, like a family room or kitchen, teens are less likely to have inappropriate contact through the computer and are more likely to notify a parent about an unusual or disturbing message.

Keep computers and laptops in a common area: Studies have shown that teenagers are less likely to engage in risky behavior if they are accessing the Internet in a common room or area where others are likely to be present. This is even true if no one is standing over their shoulder. Just the fact that you can glance at what is on the screen is enough to make kids think twice before going to inappropriate Internet sites or having conversations with individuals who they may not know. Keeping the computer in a common area can only help your child make safe decisions.

Know your child's username and password: While some parents and most all kids groan at the idea of allowing you access to their social networking page, email account or instant messaging, it really is important. The fact that you have access to the information, despite the fact that you may never actually look, protects kids from making bad choices. What's more, in the unlikely event that something should happen to your child, rather than wasting valuable time while law enforcement obtains subpoenas or search warrants, you can quickly access your child's personal Internet conversations and contacts in a matter of seconds. In nearly all cases, once law enforcement is given the access to the on line material, a missing child has been returned or someone who is targeting your child has been apprehended. It's a small piece of information that can have remarkable results if necessary.

Talk to your child about cyberbullying: Today's bullies are no longer the stereotypical "tough kid" in school, but can often times be a physical small child or a straight "A" student. Cyberbullying can happen around the clock due to Internet and cell phone access, which makes your home no longer "safe" from the bully. With 24-hour access to technology, bullying can continue no matter where the victim goes. Talk to your child about bullying and being bullied. If you feel your child is the target of cyberbullying notify law enforcement immediately.

Be sure to read the Five-Part series of Parenting in 2010 and how you can become better in tune with your kids technically ending with T.A.L.K.

Reminder: 2009 Parenting Tips Wrap-up - Continue to keep those lines of communication open.