By using their cell phones, kids have the power of the internet at their fingertips. Exactly how they use all that power gives their parents fits.
Aside from the obvious, the sharing of inappropriate content does in fact affect children’s’ brain chemistry, said Catherine Knibbs, clinical doctoral researcher, and juvenile trauma psychotherapist who writes about so-called Cyber-Trauma issues for the UK-based non-profit internetmatters.org
Cyber-Trauma refers to any trauma that occurs through use of an internet ready device.
According to Knibbs, some kids get a rush when they receive positive feedback or a compliment from the sexting messages they send to others.
“Armed with the knowledge that distributing child pornography is illegal, young people may still take the risk for this rush of dopamine and a positive response,” she wrote.
Conversely, kids whose messages or photos inspire criticism or disgust from others may promote feelings of shame.
“This process has a neurological and toxic effect on the developing brain,” Knibbs said. “It has a toxic effect on the person, (that) can quickly escalate to feelings of low self-worth, to a degree that the victim attempts to rid themselves of the shame in varying ways.”
That’s why kids whose messages produce negative reactions from others often engage in high-risk behaviors or self-harm, she said.
When pictures are shared with others and the degree of disgust increases, so does the impact of the shame for the victim, according to Knibbs.
“This is why many victims do not speak up about this issue, “she said.
So how might parents protect their kids from sexting or from those who do?
“The time to talk about sexting with your child is as soon as they start using the internet or get a mobile phone ” she advises.
Here’s what else Knibbs recommends.
Think ahead – Remind your child that once an image has been sent, there’s no way of getting it back or knowing where it will end up. Ask them to think before they send a picture of themselves: ‘would I want my family, teachers, or future employers to see it?’
Be prepared – Talk to your child about having some responses ready if they are asked to send explicit images.
Acknowledge peer pressure – Show kids you understand that they may feel pushed into sending something even though they know it isn’t the right thing to do. Help them to understand that the results of giving in to pressure could be much worse than standing up to it.