The Naked Truth About Sexting: What Parents Should Know
by Leilani Squires
What It Is
It’s confusing parents, teachers and even lawmakers. It’s scary. It’s called “sexting.”
Statistically, 20 percent of teen guys and 22 percent of teen girls have “sexted,” sending nude or semi-nude photos of themselves either through cell phones or posting them online. Typically, sexting is the “high tech” way to flirt or be funny. It can also be for recognition, or to hurt or harass. ??Several teens across the nation have been convicted of child pornography distribution due to sexting which puts them at risk to having “sex offender” added to their confidential record.
What You Need to Know
Sexting may seem to be the problem, but it's more a symptom than the problem. "Parents will look at it as "my kid needs to stop sending bad pictures" when the real issue could be any of dysfunctional patterns that could exist within a family, including lack of communication, lack of involvement in kids' lives, or anger issues," says Brad, a Denver Seminary student, formerly working with Exodus International where he dealt with sexual issues within families and the church. "Most of the problems faced by teens/families are not that complicated," he says, "but the patterns of these issues are hard to change [if you don't get to the source of the issue]."
Sixteen-year-old Estee Wells shares her perspective on why some of her peers are involved in sexting. “If parents told their kids the truth about how precious they are, then maybe kids wouldn't seek approval somewhere else."
One of the biggest developmental challenges for teens and preteens is identity, where they are trying to figure out who they are compared to family and peers. “Here's where parents need to step up to the job description and be parents,” says Joyce Swingle, MPS, Masters in Mental Health Counseling. “Parents need to help children way before the teenage years, but certainly during the teenage years, monitoring friends/peer groups, watching out for and discussing their tech and media.”? ?“Teens use whatever technology is available to them,” says Brandon Bower, MA, CADAC 1, “It’s how they express themselves.”
“Technology helps teens connect in so many ways,” says Holly Schambach, Promotions Director of Remedy.fm. “Online and over text isn’t always the best social community, but teens are more transparent there typically than with their parents.”
While sexting has a high risk of leading to sexual additions for guys like pornography, sexting is particularly emotionally damaging for girls.
“I personally did not receive the message on my phone,” says 18-year-old, Daniel Perry, who’s school experienced a few sexting incidents this year, “Everyone in a school of 3,500 knew about it within a few days. Most of the people don't know the girl by name. She's better known as the girl in the picture. She's often recognized and talked about.”
What to Do
Communicate — “Talk to them,” says Bower. “Teens still need guidance and supervision.” ?Tell teens about the dangers of sexting. Explain all the consequences. But instead of a one-time interrogation, make it normal to have regular conversations about anything and everything — relationships, sex, schoolwork, peer pressure, interests, activities, goals, and spiritual aspects. Pray with your teens. Teens will be more apt to communicate with parents when they feel that parents are “on the level.” ? ?Establish “get out” plans (call a parent, just leave…) for situations your teen should avoid. For a sexting situation, your teen should immediately turn off their phone, before they delete the picture, and report the image to a trustworthy adult. Be sure they know they can come to you!
Be Involved — “Know what your kids are doing,” Bower says. “Teens need to know that their parents love them and want to be involved in their lives.”??Whether it’s having meals together, sitting down for a chat or just asking about their day, “parents need to stay involved in their teens’ lives every day,” says Bruce Wilkison, father of three. “Our younger daughter is a freshman, living in a dorm six miles from home. But not a day goes by that I don’t talk with or text her.”??
Learn — It may be different, “new fangled” and something that’ll take time and effort, “but if you are not tech savvy, learn!” says Bower. Stay updated on the technical devices your teen uses. But keep them out of the bedrooms. ??“Learn to text,” says Schambach. “Parents would find out more about their kids if they were more available on different levels. Just like anyone else in their world.”
Teach Tech Responsibility — Teens need to learn responsible behavior regarding technology as anything sent through cell phone, email, or posted online can be saved, shared, and viewed possibly by family, friends, enemies, strangers, teachers and future employers.??“Set rules for electronic devices,” says Bower. “And be sure to consistently enforce consequences for breaking those rules.” If necessary, limit your teen’s cell phone capabilities to not allow texting or pictures.
Act — “Teens want their parents involved,” says Bower. Consider talking with other teens and parents, teachers and youth group leaders about what you've learned. Do this before something happens.
“My parents showed me through actions that what I did was important to them. I was always really busy with music, sports, etc… and they would always drive me back and forth and spend sometimes all day following me around really. The time they spent doing that helped me see how much they cared.” — Jimmy, 20-years-old
“My mom treated me like a princess, making sure I had my dress up clothes and whatnot, and continually told me that in God's eyes, I was a princess. She put a big emphasis on what God thought about me.” — Kayla, 18-years-old
“Mom and Dad busted their tails for us. My parents came to all my events: basketball games, plays, football games, baseball games, spent entire summers taking us to seven million basketball and church camps. My parents were counselors at church camps, taught bible studies and Sunday school, kept us active in various church activities. And Dad worked hard to provide for us so Mom wouldn’t have to work outside the home.” Laura, 26-years-old
“Throughout my teen years, my parents let me know that I could talk to them about anything, and they wouldn’t judge me for any failures. Knowing that I could talk to my parents anytime, anywhere, about anything really helped me through some difficult years and deepened our relationship.” Benjamin, 20-years-old
Leilani Squires writes for ONCOURSE from Winona Lake, Indiana. Leilani’s writing credits include Focus on the Family Magazine, and Brio Magazine. She is also a writing mentor for the Christian Writers Guild.
Article originally appeared on ONCOURSE magazine online . Reprinted with permission.
For “The Naked Truth about Sexting” by Leilani Wells-Squires (for students) order the Spring/Summer 2009 issue of ONCOURSE magazine #746-071 at gph.ag.org.
Leaders! Find out what to do about sexting when or before it hits close to home by following the Leaders link at oncourse.ag.org to “Sexting, Schmexting…Really?” by Danette Matty.
Also get ONCOURSE Unboxed “Behind Closed Doors”—your free downloadable small group study guide that addresses sexting, addictions and dealing with unconfessed sin. Follow the Leaders Library link at to get your copy.
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