By Danny Huerta, MSW, LCSW, LSSW
Sometimes tweens and teens feel pressured into sending sexually explicit texts to their friends. This practice is known as “sexting.”
In an effort to connect with peers, some youth begin to send sexually explicit text messages to their friends. They may also send photos that include full or partial nudity. This is called “sexting”. Some teens don’t see it as a big deal, but the consequences of sexting may be very significant.
Sexting Warrants Help from Parents
Sexting often occurs when a boy or girl asks someone else to send them nude or semi-nude photos. Many girls who have sent such pictures say they did so because a boy pressured them. Other times, a girl may volunteer to send sexual images of herself, or even ask a guy to send indecent snaps. The feeling of being wanted or the excitement of exploring sexual curiosities can be very enticing to some teens. Given the consequences of sexting, help from parents is advised.
Sexting is damaging for girls and guys. Girls, who should be treated with honor and respect, are instead viewed as objects whose purpose is to provide gratification. They often begin to see themselves in that light. Guys quickly learn lessons about male-female relationships that are unrealistic. This can lead to pornography addiction and relationship failures. Parents need to help their child integrate two very important Assets before this temptation begins to rear its ugly head: Asset #31 Restraint and Asset #35: Resistance Skills. Parents must help to arm their children with strategies to avoid these temptations and learn to say “no” when confronted with these dangerous behaviors.
Beyond that, transmitting naked pictures of a minor (in most states, a person under 18) legally constitutes child pornography. Many adolescent minors have faced charges for transmitting nude pictures of themselves. Additionally, some teen boys have even faced child pornography charges. One of the consequences of sexting is being placed on sex offender registries for sharing pictures of girlfriends.
Sadly, many teens have been victimized by their boyfriends or girlfriends. A promise may have been made to keep nude pictures confidential. However, after a breakup there’s no guarantee. Teens can seek revenge by posting these photos online (often called “revenge porn”). Also, once a photo gets posted electronically, there’s no controlling who else might see it. Cyberbullying can ensue. The results—violation of privacy, ruined reputation and repercussions from parents—can be devastating. The humiliation can be so overwhelming that some boys and girls have committed suicide.
Help from parents is essential, beginning with them monitoring their kids’ technology use. Your teen does not have a “right” to online privacy from you. The eventual goal is to have your child learn Restraint (Asset #31) and Resistance Skills (Asset #35). However, remember that your teen’s brain is still developing and often not ready to handle technology’s numerous dangers. The teen brain is primed for risk, sensation seeking and novelty. These things, when harnessed correctly and according to Positive Values, will enable them to leave home someday. On the other hand, one of the consequences of sexting is addiction. Technology is addictive, but especially when it involves sexual imagery.
Help from Parents Requires Intentional Involvement
The best and safest (Asset #10: Safety) approach to sexting is to prevent it. Here are some things you can do to minimize the risks of sexting:
Have the talk – Have ongoing conversations about the beauty of sex when done within the boundaries of commitment and marriage. Emphasize to your daughter that she’s worthy of respect and that her body should be treated with respect. Remind her that she also needs to respect the young men in her life. Teach your son the importance of treating girls as they would a sister they can protect. Emphasize the need for your son to respect their bodies as well.
Openness – Building on Assets #1 and #2: Family Support and Positive Family Communication, discuss the topic of sexting. Ask your child if she knows if kids at school are sexting. Has anyone ever sent her an explicit photo, or asked her to send one? Ask her thoughts on the topic, and also how she feels about it. Make sure she understands the consequences of sexting. Talk about the heartache that can come from what might seem like harmless sharing of photos.
Legal Realities – Make sure your child knows there are legal ramifications for sharing sexually explicit photos of a minor.
Safety (Asset #10) – Let your child know that it’s safe for her to confide in you if she ever has made a mistake in this area. Fear of an explosive reaction never inspires a child to be open. Help from parents is most effective when it is given with a balance of grace and truth.
True Freedom Comes from Healthy Boundaries and Expectations – Remind your child that freedom is found in being trustworthy. Therefore, all electronic devices will be open to your eyes at any time. Consider adopting a “nothing to hide” policy for electronics in your family, without rights to privacy. You may also consider installing software on your child’s devices to help monitor and limit their activity.
Helping Your Child
If you discover that your child has been involved in sexting:
Calmly and compassionately review the potential spiritual, legal and personal consequences of sexting. Your teen likely knows she did something she shouldn’t have. Our brains are primed to learn when we make mistakes. Strive for the end result of your conversation to be genuine remorse, learning, relationship building and maturing.
On your child’s phone, block the numbers of anyone who has shared explicit messages with him.
Ask who your child has shared photos with. You may need to speak with the other teens’ parents to prevent sensitive pictures from being spread. Additionally, help from parents can keep a bad situation from getting worse. It’s important not to act aggressively toward the other person.
Emphasize the need to rebuild trust. Your first thought may be to take away her phone forever and ground her until college. Regardless of whatever discipline you impose, she needs to understand that trust was broken and needs to be reestablished. Trust is on a continuum. It is not “you have it or you don’t.” There are different levels of trust. Provide measurable goals and verifiable actions she must take in order to move up the continuum of trust.
Teaching Kids How to Respond to Friends
What can your child do if he discovers that a friend is involved in sexting? The personality of your child could greatly influence his response. You may have a natural-born leader or a follower. As a result, this next step could be easy for some kids and very difficult for others. Help from parents includes equipping kids to do the following:
Respond with wisdom and not judgment. If it’s a girl who has been sexting, remind your child that many girls sext because they’ve been pressured into it. If the “sexter” is a guy, it may be appropriate to remind him of the possible life-changing damage he could do to a girl if any pictures of her got around. Also let him know about the consequences of sexting according to the law. Tell him that a court might not deal kindly with him if photos of an underage girl were discovered on his phone.
Remind the person involved that he or she is a person that deserves respect —and therefore of infinite worth. That person deserves to be treated with the utmost respect and should treat others likewise.
Encourage the person involved to speak with a parent or other trusted adult.
Reach out to the recipient of the sexting and make sure he or she is willing to delete all images. Ask if this person has sent the photos to others, and act accordingly.
Sexting Abbreviations You Should Know
Remember these can change quickly. Keep up to date on what abbreviations are being used through research, counselors or school staff:
NIFOC – Naked In Front of Computer
GNOC – Get Naked on Camera
NP4NP – Naked Pic 4 Naked Pic
POS – Parent Over Shoulder
Talk About It
Be a noticer
Despite pressures to participate in sexting, how could the consequences of sexting hurt you far into your future?
Do you think the person asking for nude selfies really cares about the sender of the images? Why or why not?
Have you ever seen any sexting messages or know anybody who regularly sexts?
Be a builder
How can you be compassionate toward friends that have sent sexual texts? What advice would you give them if they would listen to you?
How would you feel if other members of our family suddenly had naked pictures of themselves posted online or saved on someone else’s phone?
Be a connector
What would you do if someone asked you to send them a naked selfie? What would you tell a friend who felt pressure to sext?
Why is it important for us to have an “open for review” policy for technology in the home? How can you encourage your friends to do the same in their homes? How can you enlist help from parents?
Copyright © 2019.
RezilientKidz is a 501c3 educational organization created to champion the needs of children and equip parents to build thriving, healthy families. For information on our parenting curriculum, Raising Highly Capable Kids, contact us at 855-REZ-KIDZ or 8675 Explorer Drive, Col Springs, CO 80920.
Raising Highly Capable Kids Curriculum: https://www.rezilientkidz.com/raising-highly-capable-kids/
Fight for Your Marriage Curriculum: https://www.rezilientkidz.com/fight-for-your-marriage/