Parents often have a hard time understanding the modern teen world of constant texting, chatting, posting and online communication. Teens are so over-scheduled these days they barely have time to socialize live-and-in-person like we did. Many find time at the end of the day, late at night after the house is asleep and spend hours on social media “connecting” with their friends.
Sometimes they post overtly sexual pictures or statements on social media sites or via text and this can put them at risk for predatory behavior, bullying, teasing, and sexual harassment. We have all heard terrible stories of bullying that lead to a child’s isolation, depression and suicide.
Generally, social media and texting are not a good replacements for in-person, peer-to-peer communication and socializing. If your child spends more time with his or her friends online than in real life, it’s time to make a change so they can connect with their friends and learn how to have real relationships.
- How much are you engaging in social media? What are you communicating to your children about social media and it’s role in life?
- At what age will you allow your child to use social media?
- How comfortable are you keeping tabs on your child’s social media use? Is this something you do (or will do?)? Why or why not?
- What are your family rules about computer/screen use?
Tons of teens send sexually provocative photographs – “sexting.” Most teens consider this a normal and expected part of modern teen life. Unless a photograph is broadcast widely and embarrassingly, it’s usually not a big deal. As adults, most of us find this baffling – why on earth would a girl send a picture of her breasts to a boy she barely knows? Or a boy a picture of his penis to his girlfriend?
I see sexting as a natural and normal extension of natural and normal teen sexuality. The reasons they do this are fairly simple – impulsivity, pressure (sometimes), a sense of safety (it’s sexy, but not sex), following the pack and a natural urge to express and experience sexuality. This combination is a pressure cooker of potential trouble. Teens have always wanted and needed to express their sexuality and they have always managed to do this in safe and not-so-safe ways.
Take a step back and consider sexting from their perspective. Say a boy wants to get closer to a girl and he has sexual and romantic feelings for her. Way back when in the 1980‘s or even ‘90‘s he would have been able to chat with her in person, go to a school dance, hang out after school some, meet up at the mall and flirt, flirt, flirt. Maybe even sneak in some hand holding, kissing and *gasp* make out or have sex.
Because it isn’t so easy for kids to get together anymore, and because communicating via text has become the standard, any flirting and typical sexual behavior happens through sexting. Add on the assumed “privacy” of the medium and what you get is a photo of a boy’s penis sent to his intended. Think about this as though everything is turned up to maximum volume, but no one is wearing ear plugs because they don’t think they need them.
Aside from the fact that most girls never want to see a picture of a boy’s penis, the biggest problem is when any sexually graphic picture of a minor is transmitted it’s considered trafficking child pornography – a felony. It’s also a felony to possess the image and to create it. Triple whammy. The laws vary from state to state, but most have not caught up to the technology and kids can get into a lot of trouble for an impulsive moment.
Here are some points to ponder:
- How would you explain the risks of texting these types of photos. Consider both the emotional and legal consequences.
- What would motivate a boy to send a picture of his privates to a girl?
- What would motivate a girl to send a nude picture to a boy?
- What would you do if you discovered your child had sent a sext? Received one?
And here are some things you can do:
- Cell phone contract with consequences for sexting.
- Clear expectations and communication about why sexting isn’t okay.
- Once a child has sent a sext, chances are high they will continue to do so. Consider getting a camera free phone.
- Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.
- Make sure they have resources and info about sexuality, so they at least know what’s what.
- Encourage them to invite friends over, hang out, get together in person more frequently. They would NEVER show each other their privates in person. Or, rarely, anyway.
Teen life has become so inundated with sexual messages and behavior it’s very hard to avoid. I think this is a blessing because it means there are nearly endless opportunities for sex talks!
Read a long and kick-ass article on why teens sext here.