Tween and Teenagers
There's No Such Thing as Safe Sexting
It’s never been easy to talk to our daughters about sex without turning a mortifying shade of red – but the Internet has made the topic a whole lot harder. Sure, we can give them good information about birth control, STDs, and the emotional ramifications of having sex too early or with the wrong guy. After all, we’ve all had those talks before. Yet when it comes to teen sexting, we parents aren’t old enough to have experienced it ourselves. Before you say, “Wait a minute, are you nuts? My daughter isn’t sending provocative photos of her private parts into cyberspace” – think again. This isn’t just the stuff of movies. Surveys show that nearly half of teens are sexting, and even tweens 9-12 are getting in on the action.
Why, you wonder, would your otherwise intelligent, responsible child do something so, well, stupid? Well, as former Congressman Anthony Weiner (whose last name says it all) showed the nation, age is irrelevant when it comes to doing dopey things on the Internet. If it’s hard for adults to remember that their Facebook status updates or Tweets might somehow go beyond their group of online “friends,” it’s especially hard for teens, with their impulsivity and larger-than-life feelings, to think too far ahead before pressing the dreaded “send.”
So here are some ways you can help your daughter to think about sexting:
- Don’t sit her down for a formal “talk”: No matter how casually you think you’re bringing it up, anything you say after the word “talk” – “Can I talk to you about something?” “We need to have a talk” – will put her on the defensive. Believe me, she can smell what she’ll perceive to be your “lecture” a mile a away. You’ll get through more clearly if you bring up the topic organically and often, so that it’s just part of an ongoing dialogue between you and not a serious sit-down. For instance, when you give her a cell phone or a new computer, talk about the good things she can use technology for, and the things that might be tempting but dangerous. When you see a news item on the cyber-bullying or sexting, bring it up in the car – where you’re not looking directly at each other – and instead of telling her what to do or not do, ask what she thinks of the incident. If a celebrity is involved in technology-gone-wrong (you won’t have to search far for that!), ask what she would do in that situation. You might be surprised to hear what she doesn’t yet know, and take the opportunity to fill in the gaps for her while she’s open to the topic.
- Help her understand that sexting is still “sex”: Most likely, your daughter understands that you don’t have sex with just anyone, and you certainly don’t have sex in front of the entire school. Help her to see that sexting is also sharing your naked body with another person, but it’s riskier because it’s a click away from being seen by others. Ask her how she would feel if her boyfriend’s friend saw a provocative photo, or if it was spread throughout her peer group after a breakup. Consider with her what it would be like to find somebody posting that photo publically a year or two from now, since that photo will live digitally forever. Help her to think through the possibilities and to recognize that the long-term consequences are real and permanent. Not to mention, if she’s under 18, it’s illegal.
- Differentiate between empowerment and self-esteem. Often girls feel pressured to send sexy photos, either as a test of trust or as a way of appeasing a boyfriend she doesn’t want to lose but who’s ramping up the comments about sleeping together. Your daughter may even have been told that sending sexy images would feel “empowering.” If you hear about a situation where somebody felt pressured to do something, ask her if she feels that person had a good sense of self-respect or likely felt “empowered.” Ask her to imagine what happens after somebody gives away her dignity. Don’t contradict her or lecture. Just listen. Really listen. The more you listen, and add an occasional, “Huh, really?” or “Tell me more…,” the more she’ll start to clarify her own thoughts and come to some smart conclusions.
- Set up rules before anything happens: You have rules about alcohol, drug use, and computer time, and you should also have rules about sexting. While there’s such a thing as safe sex, there’s no such thing as safe sexting. Sexting should be part of the ground rules on what she is and isn’t allowed to do on the Internet. Be specific about what sexting is (you don’t want to hear, “But it’s just half of my left boob!”), and what specifically the consequence will be. Also explain why you feel so strongly about it, so that she understands that while it might seem trivial to send a “goofy” sexy photo as a joke, it’s actually “a big deal.” Knowing that sexting is on your radar and that there will be consequences will help her think twice if the opportunity presents itself.
- If you find that your daughter has sexted, don’t freak out on her: Yes, you’ll have to follow through with the consequences, but if you want your daughter to talk to you about what’s really going on and be honest with you, you’re going to need to hear her out. Find out what prompted the sexting, what she expected would happen (or not happen), and try to understand her perspective, even if you don’t agree with it. Help her to think about the experience more deeply. Is she in a relationship that feels uncaring or only about sex? Did she feel manipulated into doing it? Listen to what prompted her decision, talk about how she can handle it differently in the future if she’s tempted to do it again, reiterate why you have the no-sexting rule, and above all, stay calm. Then, without criticizing, judging or lecturing, simply execute the consequence (such as taking away her cell phone or computer privileges for a meaningful period of time). She won’t be happy with the consequence, but she’ll likely be relieved that you know about it, you care, you’re keeping her safe, and you’re on her side.
Don't Miss the Lifetime Original Movie "Sexting In Suburbia" Saturday, January 14 at 9/8c on Lifteime. Watch a preview: