Once you hit send, it’s on the Internet forever

The Internet is a double-edged sword. There is ready access to good and bad information, good and bad social interaction, and good and bad behaviors. Not everyone can think past the impulsive moment when sharing something questionable with others. And it’s been a difficult lesson for some people to learn.

Right now words and phrases come to mind like discernment, common sense, parenting, guidance, respect, self-respect and life skills toolbox. These are some important tools for using today’s technology to its best potential. But everyone doesn’t have those tools.

Kids have Internet access to things that they shouldn’t, and share things online, in messaging and texting. One of those things is “sexting,” which is sending sexually explicit messages, photos or videos via cell phones or other electronic devices, advises the Drug Free Action Alliance (drugfreeactionalliance.org).

Sexting happens, even if you, as a parent, don’t want to think that your teen would do such a thing, but 39 percent of teens questioned admitted that they sent sexually suggestive messages by text, email or instant messaging, and 20 percent say they have sent nude or semi-nude photos or videos of themselves, says the Drug Free Action Alliance.

Sexting has been linked to other problems, like substance abuse and risky sexual behavior. Why do teens do it?

— Fun and flirting.

— A present for their boyfriend.

— Pressure from someone.

— Responding to a sext that was sent to them.

— Sent as a joke.

— Sent to feel sexy.

The common denominator of these facts is “approval and acceptance.” That’s what kids are looking for, but the result is destructive. Once it’s out there, there isn’t much chance of deleting it or taking it back. And there is no telling where it will end up … a porn site, shared with everyone an ex-boyfriend knows, school officials. And that’s just the beginning because colleges and potential employers look online to find out how stable their job candidates are, how mature they are, what kind of judgment they have. It can follow you the rest of your life.

People can be cold and cruel, making fun, shaming the sender. Then arises the issue of suicide for some of them, because they can’t see any other way to make it stop.

Parents, it’s not enough to say to your kids that they better never do it. They need to understand the risks and facts about sexting. KidsHealth.org recommends:

Teach your children to be responsible for their own safety and their own actions. Actions bring consequences. They need to own what they say and do, and to make good choices.

Talk openly about personal responsibility, personal boundaries and resisting peer pressure, not just in trouble times, but throughout their lives as they grow and mature.

A good rule of thumb: What would your grandmother think? If she wouldn’t approve, it’s a pretty good indication that you just shouldn’t do it.

Being a teen is challenging enough without the extras that life now throws into their lives, things like peer pressure, substance abuse and sexting. Help your teens to develop a positive self-image and to make good life choices, to develop healthy relationships that support and encourage them along their challenging life paths.

Addiction has no address, but Family Recovery Center does. For more information about the education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and related behavioral issues, contact the agency at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, info@familyrecovery.org. FRC is funded, in part, by United Way of Northern Columbiana County.