Image of the dangers of sexting

A Parent’s Guide to Avoiding Digital Drama

To today’s young people, social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat can be as seductive as cigarettes, weed and alcohol once were to their parents, and every bit as dangerous.

“We see girls as young as 12 sexting, which is sending inappropriate photos of themselves over their cell phones,” said Rhea Pollack, LCSW, and director of the Child, Adolescent and Family Service Program with SBH Behavioral Health (SBHBH). “It’s an impulsive act where they don’t think before they act, and they don’t understand the extent of what they’ve done. When other students find out it’s them, they get bullied. It may be meant for one boy, but pretty soon everyone in the class knows about it. Their picture is out there for everyone to see forever. And, it’s not just about getting picked on; the legal system and the school may also get involved.”

According to Pollack and Milagros Arce-Tomala, LCSW, director of SBHBH’s David Casella Child Services, children act inappropriately on social media outlets as a way of getting attention. “Many girls at this age are socially awkward and are looking for a boyfriend,” said Arce-Tomala. “They think by doing this they will get a boy to like them, but it ends up turning on them.”

In treatment, social workers work on the children’s self-esteem and impulsivity, trying to get them to think before they act. They educate them on the consequences of such actions so they change their behavior. Some commit the act once, and stop. Others, who are more disturbed, may become repeat offenders, or progress to sending out more explicit videos.

During treatment, the clinicians also work closely with the child’s parents. “In therapy, we encourage parents to set limits, assert their authority and educate their child,” said Pollack. “They need to set rules and enforce them. “Many parents don’t realize just how dangerous this can be.”


They think by doing this they will get a boy to like them, but it ends up turning on them.Milagros Arce-Tomala, LCSW


The social workers offer these additional tips to parents:

While you may not be as savvy as your child when it comes to social media, you need to be involved and maintain open communication with them.

Get access to all passwords. “Be aware that some kids may give their parents access to one account, and then do stuff on another account,” said Arce-Tomala. “As a parent, you need to stay on top of this.”

If you’re paying for the carrier, you have the right to call it to get information on its use. As a parent, you need to investigate and remain proactive. Know your child, and err on the side of caution.

Remind family members, friends and neighbors to contact you should they see anything inappropriate on your child’s social media sites.

Be aware of who comprises your child’s social media circle. “There are predators out there who will come across as your child’s age on Facebook or Instagram and then try to meet up with them,” said Arce-Tomala.  “Parents need to help their child build judgment and explain the risks to them.”

For more information about the programs offered by SBH Behavioral Health, please call 718-960-3071.

by Steven Clark