teen sexting

You Caught Your Teen Sexting. What Now?

The day after a high school homecoming dance, I talked with a parent whose daughter was a senior. She asked me if I had chaperoned the dance. “No way,” I said, even though I worked with teens and was involved at the school. “It’s way too uncomfortable.” She asked me why and I told her: “They don’t dance. They just grind on each other. When I was in high school, one or two couples might have done that, but now, 100 percent of them do.” She shrugged and said, “That’s too bad.” I replied, “Think about that—100 percent,” alluding that her daughter is among them.

It just so happened that her daughter approached us at that moment. So, her mom confronted her: “Do you grind at school dances?” Her daughter’s face turned pale and her eyes widened before she backed up and practically sprinted away. “We’re going to have a serious talk later!” her mom yelled. That was over 10 years ago and sexual activity among teens has since escalated. Here’s what you need to know.

If you’ve thought, ‘My son/daughter would never…,’ you are being naive.

Once smartphones got popular, it was only a matter of time before teens started sexting and sexting became widespread. If you’ve thought, “My son/daughter would never…,” you are being 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, you should. If you catch a teen 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

Teenagers do not have a core identity yet. They know how to meet others’ expectations and what face to put on to make others happy. That includes you, but there are many people whose approval is important to them. Your biggest competitor 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. Their multiple faces just haven’t become one. The values you are instilling are not fully 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 a calm and caring approach is more effective. They need to know that this is serious and dangerous but first, they need to know you love them. The severity of it all should be the second shock wave.

  1. Start with your tone. Be tender, calm, but concerned. Create a relaxed environment. Remember, you want your child’s guard down. The second shock wave will have a deeper impact when the walls are down.
  2. 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 or her? Do you think he or she has done this with anyone else? Have you? How well do you trust this person? What has he or she done to earn this level of trust?
  3. Let your teen talk. Don’t interrupt, ever. The most delicate information gets revealed when your teens start wandering with their words. Getting them to talk is hard. When they get going, interrupting them is like throwing water on a fire just after you finally got it started.
  4. Eventually, move the conversation to the gravity of it all with more open questions. What do you think would happen if the pictures you sent were shared around? Would you be OK with that? How do you know it hasn’t happened already? What happens when you break up or you make him or her mad? Would he or she keep it secure? Have you thought about how you would explain this to your future fiancé if your pictures ended up all over the Internet?
  5. At this point, if you have listened well, your words will carry more weight. That’s when you can lay down your deepest concerns. Your tone and eye contact should become slightly more intense. They need to know they’re entering into an 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 his or her 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.

Establishing 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. They should probably lose the phone. If you want them to be able to call in case of an emergency, give them an old school flip phone that only can make calls. No texting, Snapchat, or any other app that has a private-instant messaging system.

All computer-, tablet-, and 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 OK 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.

Earn some points: Are you married? If so, share this iMOM article with your wife: The Enticing World of Sexting and Its Impact on Our Kids.

Sound off: What would you do if you caught your teen sexting?

Huddle up with your teens and ask, “What do you think about sexting? Have you ever been pressured to do it?”