It was the day after a high school homecoming dance. I saw a parent I knew whose daughter was a senior. She asked me if I had chaperoned the dance. During that time, I worked with teenagers and was regularly involved with things at the school. I said, “No way. It’s way too uncomfortable.” She asked me what was uncomfortable. I said, “They don’t really dance. All they do is grind on each other. When I was in high school, one or two couples might be doing that, but now it’s 100%.” She shrugged and said, “That’s too bad.” I replied, “You’re not thinking about that figure. It’s 100%.” I was alluding to the fact that her daughter is in the number and when her face changed, I realized that it was sinking in. She said, “I’m sure it’s not 100%.”
It just so happened that her daughter came strolling up at that moment. So she turned to her daughter and asked, “Do you grind at these dances?” Her daughter’s face turned white and her eyes opened wide before she immediately walked, practically sprinted, away. Her mom yelled, “We’re going to have a serious talk later!” That was over ten years ago and sexual activity among teens continues to escalate.
Now sexting is widespread and if you’ve thought, “My son/daughter would never…” I would say that is naive.Once everyone had a smartphone, it was only a matter of time before sexting became the next medium teens would engage in. Now sexting is widespread and if you’ve thought, “My son/daughter would never…” I would say that is naive. Any teen is capable, even the ones who seem “pure” and “wholesome.” If you have not had a discussion with your kid about teen sexting then start now. If you catch them engaging in it or even if you haven’t, prepare yourself for that talk with the following points.
The Important Back Story – The World of Teens
You may not have raised them to engage in that type of behavior, but again, don’t be surprised. Teenagers do not have a core identity yet. They know how to meet the expectations of others and what face they need to put on that will make others happy. That includes you, but there are many different people whose approval is important to them. The biggest competitor you have is their peers. When they are home, they show you one face and when they are with their peers, they put on a different one. They aren’t being fake or two-faced. The two faces just haven’t become one yet. The values you are instilling are not fully a part of them yet.
Having the Serious Talk
Your main goal should be gathering as much information as you can. You can come in with the hard line approach, but more than likely, they will shut down or give you as little info as possible. Taking the calm and caring approach is more effective in my opinion. They do need to know that this is serious, but do that second when you start talking about the dangers. Your love should hit first, but the severity of it all should be the second shock wave. Honestly, this takes practice and skill. Think through it well.
- Start with your tone. It should be tender, calm, but concerned. Try to create a relaxed environment. Remember, you want their guard down. The second shock wave will have a deeper impact when the walls are down.
- Ask questions that are open-ended about the relationship and the sexting. When did this begin? How did it make you feel? What do you feel for this person? Why did you do it? Are you in love with him/her? Do you think they have ever done this before with anyone else? Have you? How well do you trust them? What have they done to earn this level of trust?
- Let them talk. Don’t interrupt them ever. The most delicate information gets revealed when they start wandering with their words. Getting them going is hard. When they are going interrupting them is like throwing water on a fire it took you awhile to get started.
- Eventually, move the conversation to the gravity of it all with more open questions. What do you think would happen if this was shared around? Are you okay with that? How do you know they haven’t already? What happens when you break up or you make her/him mad? Would they keep it secure then? Have you thought about how you would explain this to your future fiancé if it ends up all over the Internet?
- At this point, if you have listened well, your words will carry more weight. That’s when you can lay down the deepest concerns. Your tone and eye contact should become slightly more intense. The fact is that they are entering into a highly intimate and vulnerable place with people who are unsafe. Teenagers, even the most well-intentioned, are incredibly self-focused and desperate for attention. Placing oneself in such a vulnerable position is like a spider inviting a human to put their hand on its web. When that hand gets pulled away, the web will be in tatters. That’s why engaging in sex was designed for marriage. Doing it apart from a lifelong commitment leads to a tattered heart with wounds that affect all future relationships. Some of those wounds never fully heal. The person ends up with a calloused heart to protect against ever feeling pain and brokenness like that again. It makes future intimacy more difficult.
- Finally, you need to establish boundaries.
While the most important thing to do is to get to the heart of the matter, it’s important to note that this is risky behavior in need of boundaries. Establishing the greatest amount of safety should be at the top of the list. I would say they should lose the phone. If you want them to have the ability to call in the case of an emergency then give them an old school flip phone that only has the ability to make calls. No texting, snap chat, or anything else that has a private-instant messaging system. All computer, tablet, tech use should be moved into a public area in the house. I would also ground them from time with their peers for a while. Not to spend time alone, but to spend more time with you. The more time they spend with you the better, even if they resent it in the beginning. It’s okay to do some fun things with them during this time. Use the time to keep them talking about this issue. The more open dialogue the better.
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your teens and ask, “What do you think about sexting? Have you ever wanted to do it?”