As any parent of a teenager knows, texting among teens and tweens is now almost second nature. Case in point: Just the other day, I had to text my 14-year-old son to request that he pass the breadsticks from his end of the table at Olive Garden. There was no other way to get his attention.
Sure, it's not ideal when our teens pay more attention to their phones than to us, but most of the time it isn't harmful. What can be dangerous is quite the opposite: When we start to tune them out because they're busy texting.
It's easy to do that when a teen has his music going in one ear and his thumbs flying on his mobile device. But don't do it. Pay attention to whom your teen is texting and what they're sending. Although your texts may involve breadsticks and olive oil, what they're doing might be something much less frivolous: sexting.
As a parent, you have the right to know what your teens are doing with their smartphones or laptops.
Here's what you can do if you think your teen is sexting:
Observe your child for signs of sexting
Look for signs that he may be involved in risky behavior. Listen to the language he uses around friends. Watch for changes in grades, amount of sleep, eating habits or exercise.
Know your teen's friends
If your teen has friends who engage in sexting, then your teen is probably sexting too.
Develop strong lines of communication
If you spend enough time together, you might be able to find out through normal conversations if she is sexting. Draw out your child by listening. Ask her, “Have you texted anyone today? Who are you texting right now?” Get your kid talking about her texting experience. Emphasize that everything sent over the Internet or a cell phone can be shared with the entire world, so it's important to use good judgment.
Check your teen's mobile device
Have your kid show you where the privacy features are for their devices. The more private, the less likely it will be that inappropriate material is shared with his social circle. Ask him to show you where pictures are kept on the device. Don't allow teens to have a password-protected device.
Consider blocking all text capabilities
In extreme cases, you can have the texting service shut off. Call your service provider and run through the options.
You may need to take some time and learn to use your teen's mobile devices, but it's worth the effort. Make sure to check their devices often, because tech-savvy teens can change their privacy settings without letting you know.
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