Sexting is the act of sending sexual messages or nude/semi-nude photos to another person over an online device. For today’s foster youth, this is considered a normal part of everyday life. Indeed, it is the 21st century form of flirting–and a large percentage of today’s youth either have received a sext message or have sent one.
What most foster children do not realize, however, is that once a sext message has been sent through online means, the message will remain in the digital cloud of the internet. As most foster children have become de-sensitized to the world of sexually-themed messages that surround them each day, the consequences of their actions are often not considered before sending a sexually-suggestive message or picture. But a child in foster care is at risk emotionally, psychologically and legally. Along with this, sexual predators and human traffickers also may seek out children in foster care through text messaging.
While it may be almost impossible to fully protect foster children from the dangers online, there are a number of strategies that foster parents can implement to better protect their foster child from these threats.
- constantly remind foster children that they are important and loved
- inform your foster children about the dangers of sexting
- educate your foster children about the legal implications of sexting
- be alert for advances in new technology
- accept any inappropriate sex talk
- overlook the need to monitor your foster child’s cell phone
- ignore your foster child’s social newtork sites
- be fooled
There is a good chance that your foster child has never been taught the value of personal respect and self-worth. As a result, your foster child may not consider sexting to be a negative action. It is vital that you teach your foster children to not only value themselves as individuals, but to value others as well. Remind them daily that they matter, that they are important and they are loved.
Remind your foster children to inform you of all online contact that is disturbing or harmful. The link between sexting and sexual activity is very real and very relevant. In fact, one study concluded that sexting likely leads to greater sexual activity among youth (Sexually Explicit Cell Phone Messaging Association With Sexual Risk Among Adolescents, 2012).
From a study conducted of just under 2,000 high school students, it was revealed that those who had engaged in either sending or receiving sext messages were more likely to engage in unprotected sex. The results surely lead to higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. Sexual predators also are on the lookout for sext messages, and they may contact your foster child about a sext message he/she sent, thus trying to ensnare the child into the world of human trafficking.
Not only do children in foster care–and children across the globe–face emotional and social problems from sexting, there are legal risks to sexting as well. In many parts of the world, the possession of sexual images of a child under the age of 18 is a serious crime, which is deemed to be child pornography. Along with this, knowingly or intentionally possessing visual material (such as naked pictures) that depicts a child under the age of 18 engaging in sexual conduct is also a crime. Even more, the promotion, circulation, transmitting, distribution, dissemination or even copy and pasting on a computer of naked or sexual pictures, either by mail, email, chat rooms, social networks or any other form of online technology, is also considered a felony. While there are serious consequences for these crimes, many children do not truly appreciate consequences.
As technology changes at a rapid pace, it is important that you remain vigilant and up to date with any and all advances in the technology that your foster child is using. Educate yourself on software and apps that can help you block any inappropriate content, as well as assisting you in monitoring your foster child’s online activity and cell phone use.
Many times, children in foster care have not been raised in a home that taught them what is and is not appropriate in regards to sexual behavior, as well as what is acceptable in regards to how one speaks regarding sex. Some foster children have been raised in a home where they were surrounded by verbal violence, along with inappropriate comments regarding sex. It is likely that your foster child does not share the same morals, values and expectations that your family does regarding sexual behavior and speech.
Teach your foster child that any inappropriate comments regarding sex is not only unwelcome, but also quite inappropriate. If your foster child understands that this type of talk is not welcome in your home, he or she also may come to understand that it is inappropriate through online means and on a cell phone.
If you and your child’s caseworker believe your foster child is mature and responsible enough to have a cell phone, it will be necessary to monitor it. While there are those who may believe you are invading your foster child’s privacy, you are actually protecting your foster child from sexting, sexual predators and other dangers. Know your foster child’s password and give it to the child’s caseworker. Let your foster child know that you will be checking the phone each day for inappropriate material.
Foster children are much more likely to not only send sext messages, but also share inappropriate information; search for inappropriate sites and materials; chat with strangers; or engage in other activities that may bring danger to them if they are left unsupervised for lengths of time, knowing that no one is watching. For these reasons, it is vital that foster parents monitor what their foster children are accessing online.
Foster parents must ensure that children are not accessing inappropriate content or putting themselves in positions of danger. You cannot rely on filters alone to keep your foster child safe. Even the best filters can fail, as technology-savvy users find ways to get around the safety nets you set in place. By checking your foster child’s online devices and cell phones on a daily basis, you can ensure that your foster child is not sending or receiving sext messages. Additionally, you also can ensure that the online device is not being abused or used for the wrong purpose.
Many foster parents do not allow their foster children to have cell phones or access to a computer. But your foster child will get access to a cell phone or computer at some point. Many times, children borrow the phones of their friends or other students while in school, and gain access to computers while also in school. Do not be fooled into thinking that your foster child will never have access. Where there is access, there is also the potential for danger.
Sexting, which poses a real threat to today’s youth, has become almost common among children across the globe. Children in foster care are especially at risk from the many dangers associated with sexting. Foster children who sext are at risk from ethical, emotional and even legal dangers, as well as placing themselves in great danger from sexual predators and human traffickers. Foster parents must be diligent in their efforts to protect their foster children from these dangers and these horrors.