In a New York Times interview, Kathy, 17, told journalists her thoughts on sexting: “There’s a positive side to sexting. You can’t get pregnant from it, and you can’t transmit S.T.D.’s. It’s a kind of safe sex.”
This is the rationale of many teenagers: sending people naked or erotic pictures of oneself is a way to be sexy without the sex. It’s important, therefore, for parents to talk to there teens about the dangers of sexting, and why it’s always (not sometimes) a bad idea.
Parents Need to Talk About Sexting
You might be wondering how necessary it is for you to talk to your kid about sexting. And of course it differs from kid to kid. There are some ten-year-olds who need the talk, while there are probably some fifteen-year-olds who don’t, so parental discernment is key. But let me just say this. When I travel and speak at high schools on porn, I’m always told, “we’ve had incidents of sexting.” And yes, these are Catholic schools.
According to the Cox Teen Online & Wireless Safety Survey, 17% of teens have received a sext. According to Pew Internet, the likelihood of receiving a sext only goes up as kids get older: 20% of 16-year-olds and 30% of 17-year-olds have received a sext.
For the most part, then, we need to be having this conversation with our teens. But how?
1. Let the news break the ice for you.
Find something recent and attention grabbing. The next time you have a free moment with your pre-teen or teenager, bring up the story. Talk about the facts of the story and the consequences of the texting case. Then ask your child some specific questions. “Do you know anyone who has done this at your school?” “Do you think sexting is pretty harmless or really unwise?”
2. Tell them sexting is illegal.
For the time being, the laws in many states are worded in such ways that minors who send and forward sexts are being criminally charged. Teens have been charged with everything from disorderly conduct to illegal use of a minor in pornography to sexual abuse of children.
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We need to make this clear to their kids.
3. Tell them sexts can end up in the wrong hands.
One survey found 25% of teen girls and 33% of teen boys say they have had nude or semi-nude images—originally meant for someone else—shared with them.
“Yeah, it happens a lot,” said one high-school girl in an interview with Pew Internet. “Sometimes people will get into fights with their ex’s, and so they will send the nudes as blackmail, but it’s usually when or after you’ve been dating someone.”
Not only are photos and videos passed from phone to phone and over e-mail, but some are even uploaded to porn websites.
We parents need to warn our kids: once a picture is out there, you lose control of it forever.
4. Tell them sexting is only giving into the lies of a porn culture.
Late last year Jennifer Lawrence was the cover story of Vanity Fair. In the article she talked about how nude photos she had sent to her boyfriend were hacked and spread around online. When asked why she sent the photos in the first place, she said,
“I was in a loving, healthy, great relationship for four years. It was long distance, and either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you.”
This quote is a perfect illustration of how even young, beautiful, talented women can completely buy into the lie that ladies must become porn to compete with porn.
I call this a lie for a few reasons. First, it portrays men as only being interested in sex and incapable of self-control. These may be the sorts of “men” Lawrence (and many teens) are around, but it doesn’t describe many of the men I know, and what’s more, it falls woefully short of who God is calling men to be: Virtuous, passionate, courageous.
Second, it’s a lie because it assumes sex should be on-tap all the time. From childhood to their teenage years, children should be taught that though the human body is beautiful, nakedness is meant to be private and special.
As Naomi Wolf says, the power and charge of sex are maintained when there is some sacredness to it. “In many more traditional cultures, it is not prudery that leads them to discourage men from looking at pornography,” she says. “These cultures urge men not to look at porn because they know that a powerful erotic bond between parents is a key element of a strong family. And feminists have misunderstood many of these prohibitions.”
Parents should teach kids to combat these lies everywhere they see them. From the glossy magazine covers that teach girls their busts are too small and their waists are too big, to the music videos that play to every misogynist fantasy, to the peers at school that pressure each other to get naked in front of a webcam or cell phone, teens need to be taught they are not sexual commodities.
They are worth far more than that.
If you’re interested in learning how to better protect your kids online, you might be interested in downloading the free guide Protecting Your Family Online: A How-To Guide for Parents
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