Taking away your kid's phone at night isn't the only way to make sure they get a good night's sleep and avoid any inappropriate late-night use.

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By Benjamin Fry For You. From video sex chats and naked selfies to sexting, sharing sexual content by smartphone is now the norm for many teenagers. But the fact that virtual sex often predates real relationships could be psychologically damaging, says mental-health expert Benjamin Fry. Here he investigates….

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When Sarah came to see me in my mental-health clinic, her story was all too familiar. She felt isolated and disconnected from them, with no idea what they were actually doing online. She found out by accident when her computer, which she shared with her youngest son Josh, had a virus.

How to turn kids' phones off at night (or anytime, really)

While the consultant was fixing it, he found ed mobile-phone photos of girls doing things — none of which would grace a family newspaper. Randomised video sex chat, naked selfies, hook-up sites and old-fashioned pornography mingled in a soup of out-of-control teenage hormones. Having discovered the mass of digital evidence, she confronted him. He said he had learnt about it from his elder brothers. They laughed it freeze free sex chat lines for teens as harmless — everyone was at it.

But the effect it was having on her youngest was clearly not OK. He was showing symptoms of addiction to his phone and withdrawal from the world. He was discovering girls, dating and sex — nothing abnormal about that — but because it was all happening online, it was affecting his nervous system in ways we are only just beginning to understand. Teenagers date differently now. For my generation I am 44the first hurdle we had to overcome was getting to whatever party it was where there might be some action.

Now the only vehicle that matters is the smartphone. This is where boys meet girls, girls compete for their attention, and they all try to manage the boiling riot of their own pubescent hormones. This ancient dance used to be regulated by society. Nothing is observed by the community any longer, so the ancient notion of shame as a basic regulator of behaviour has gone.

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In the old days you would have got a few relationship skills under your belt before you got anywhere near taking off your belt. These days, the internet, the smartphone, messaging and Skype have turned that millennia-old dynamic on its head.

The ugly truth about sexting: now the norm for many teens, it often predates real relationships, but has damaging effects

Sex was supposed to be the last domino to fall after a long social ritual, not the way to say hello. Boys and girls now meet, date, flirt and even have sex online. In a study by South West Grid for Learning and Plymouth University, 38 per cent of to year-olds said they had received a sexually explicit message and 39 per cent admitted sharing intimate images. Viewing and sharing sexual content is becoming the norm — as has hiding it from parents.

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Boys in particular are vulnerable, as they are generally more motivated by sex than girls who tend to be more relationship-focused and therefore more attracted to sexting. Our brains have evolved to give us the best chance of healthy relationships when we spend time face to face.

This sends a message to our brain that we are safe in this social space. Receiving these positive visual and auditory als makes us connected, compassionate and cooperative. This gives a softness and warmth to our eyes and cheeks, making us expressive.

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It slows down the heart, relaxes us and gives us a warm, fuzzy feeling. Our nervous system is then primed in a healthy way to handle any possible sexual activity to come. The old-fashioned way of getting a date, by making eye contact and small talk at a party, activates all of these evolutionary als.

Modern sexting uses none of these cues. This makes us competitive, ruthless, disinhibited; in short, animalistic in the pursuit of our biological needs. Nine states in the US have passed laws to prohibit the posting of such images, and there is talk in the House of Lords of doing the same here. He was monosyllabic, lacking compassion, ruthless and locked in short-term thinking. The mammal brain had become his default mode. Sarah, of course, blamed herself, wondering where she had gone wrong as a parent.

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She also blamed him — how could her once sweet, considerate boy have turned into such a seemingly selfish and amoral youth? But while sexting and viewing explicit sexual content online may have been a conscious choice on his part to start with, the way his nervous system responded was not. Rather, it was predetermined by evolution. In addition to changing his character from sweet to sullen, the barrage of explicit imagery was constantly spiking his stress levels. Technology has moved at lightning speed compared to evolution. In real life, a teenage boy might see a naked female only very occasionally, which might produce a rush of adrenalin.

Online the sheer volume of imagery means that this effect will be greatly magnified. A well-regulated nervous system may just about be able to cope with this, but an evolving teen brain already in mammal-brain mode due to time spent online will respond to stress in the same way a gazelle responds to being chased by a lion. It will run on adrenalin and then freeze when there is no escape. Josh was constantly on red alert with no way of coping when he felt overwhelmed — other than to shut down. Sexting robs our teens of the als that let them know that they are socially safe.

The result is that their first sexual experiences become associated not with love and connection but stress, threat and fear. Because sexting spikes our stress and threat receptors, our natural instinct is to try to resolve any incomplete cycle of threat by returning to it again and again something that we all recognise from the negative patterns we repeat in our own lives. So repeating the experience becomes addictive — the only way to cope with the underlying stress of doing it originally.

Sexting also sets up a barrier to the later stages of a monogamous relationship, where two people are on the same side, rather than in competition. If the only model teens have of making a sexual connection is through a computer, then the brain has a lot of recalibrating to do in order to find a loving, committed and real relationship, which feels safe, nourishing and secure.

I helped Sarah to reconnect with Josh using some simple strategies see below to activate his biologically wired social-engagement system. Quite quickly, Josh was able to recover some social engagement and begin to see that the security of a loving face-to-face relationship made him feel safer than anything he could find online.

At home…. Put phones away, turn off the wifi, unplug the TV. Make their bedroom a place of emotional safety, not one of possible threat, where the adrenalin-spiking internet could freeze free sex chat lines for teens at any point. Laptops and phones should not be freeze free sex chat lines for teens and connected in the run-up to sleep.

Sit face to face and give them the opportunity to connect with you. Ignore every interruption. Never break off to talk to another child, answer a phone or read an. It is easy to be negative, but they need a template of positive connection that does not revolve around sexual exploitation. And out….

Go out for a casual meal with your teen and agree to leave devices at home. The anxiety of a missed message will soon fade. This will allow for unbroken face-to-face human contact.

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With younger children, get down to their level so that they can comfortably look at your face. The same principle will work for fathers, too, only less strongly.

The more they talk, the longer their exhalations are. Longer out-breaths compared with in-breaths will trigger their ventral vagal nerve, calming them down and stimulating their social-engagement system. The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline. Argos AO. Privacy Policy Feedback. Sexting sets up a barrier to the later stages of a monogamous relationship.

Boys and girls now meet,date, flirt and even have sex online.

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Share or comment on this article: The ugly truth about sexting: Now the norm for many teens, it often predates real relationships, but has damaging effects e-mail. Comments Share what you think. View all. More top stories.

How to respond to disrespectful children and teens

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