Parents shouldn’t be afraid to talk to their children about sexting, cyberbullying and other difficult topics, said Ada Police Department Patrolman Allen Musser.
But he said parents should think carefully about how they want to introduce the subject because the wrong approach could push children away.
“Don’t just go home and freak out on them and think that they’re automatically doing something bad,” he said. “Don’t do that. Talk with them. It’s very important that you communicate this to them.”
Musser and police Capt. Jason Potter presented the Ada Police Department’s “PASS” program, which covers sexting, cyberbullying and other problems, to a group of about 30 adults Thursday night at the Pontotoc Technology Center. “PASS” stands for “Prevention, Awareness, Sexting and Suicide.”
Musser developed the program, which is designed to give parents the tools they need to prevent sexting and cyberbullying, after attending a seminar on human trafficking in Tulsa. The police department has presented the program at several area schools, including East Central University.
Musser said sending suggestive or sexually explicit text messages and photos to another person is not illegal in itself, assuming the sender and recipient are older than 18. But he said sexting can have unpleasant repercussions — especially if the recipient decides to share explicit photos or messages on social media.
“Once that sext or any type of explicit text message is sent, it cannot come back,” he said. “It cannot come back. You can’t say, ‘Oops.’ It’s gone.”
Musser said people who engage in sexting are making a bad decision for any number of reasons, including peer pressure. Other reasons may include the sender’s belief that he or she is in love with the recipient or a simple failure to think or care about the possible consequences.
Those consequences could include:
• If the recipient is a former partner or spouse, he or she could decide to post the pictures on social media as a form of post-breakup revenge.
• The photos could be sold to a pornographic website.
• Someone could use the photos in an attempt to bully or blackmail the victim.
Musser said sexting is the leading cause of teen suicide because teens who appear in explicit photos don’t know what to do when those photos show up online. He said parents are obliged to protect their children from danger.
“As parents, we as adults have a mission, and we have to stop it,” he said.
Musser offered the following tips for preventing sexting and cyberbullying:
• Monitor your kids’ activities.
• Watch for unusual apps on your children’s phones.
• Keep lines of communication with your children open.