Sexting (or “sex texting”) is sending or getting sexually explicit or suggestive images, messages or videos on a smartphone or through the internet.
In a recent Oxfam UK survey (June 2021), girls ages 12 to 18 were asked about the topic. Some shocking stats were shared and we should expect them to be similar in the U.S. They include:
- Teenage girls are receiving up to 11 requests for nude photos a night, on average
- Girls as young as 12 are being sent sexually explicit or male genital images unsolicited.
This got me thinking that we need to find ways to keep our daughters P. U. R. E.
Protected, Understood, Respected, Engaged
PROTECTED: We as parents, grandparents, family members, educators, etc., have a responsibility to protect the children in our care. We need to have conversations with them, early and often, about sexuality, sexting, pornography and the value of their bodies. It is not a question of if our children will be exposed, but when. And then it is a question of what will they do with that. Does it become an instance of shame and guilt or an instance where we have built up the trust that they come to us.
Starting very early to teach your kids about modesty and having the preparatory conversations can be as easy as saying:
“Your body is such an incredible gift from God…and you know there are parts that are private. These are the parts we cover with a bathing suit. If anyone ever asks to see those parts, or if anyone ever shows you pictures of those parts that should be covered by a bathing suit, you tell Mommy or Daddy right away.”
As your child grows older, it is likely that they will have technology and be spending more time with cell phones, laptops and tablets. There need to be strong boundaries in place regarding your children’s utilization of technology. Here are points to remember:
- The technology is not theirs, it is yours. They are allowed to use it. But you are always allowed to look at it, search it and put it away . When they are 18 and want to pay for their own technology, they can, but until then you OWN IT.
- Explain, early and often, that a sent image or message can’t be taken back. It can, and likely will, spread to others who weren’t meant to see it. Teach kids to follow the “WWGT” (What would Grandma think?) rule. If Grandma shouldn’t see it, they shouldn’t send it.
- Be very clear on a zero-tolerance policy for sexting. If it happens, their device is gone. Period.
Today’s world is very different from the one we as parents and grandparents grew up in. We need to understand the challenges, so we can help our kids navigate them. In relation to sexting, that is critically important because it has become completely normalized in age brackets as young as middle school. And I mean completely normal. Believe me when I say your child will know what it is before you want to discuss it.
In this new world of likes, virtual friends, social media, etc., there is a highly ramped-up version of what we considered peer pressure. It is much worse. It can make our kids feel like they will always be outsiders if they don’t get in the groove of nude selfie taking and receiving. The pressure today for our kids is immense. In their world, the normal human need for connection and being part of a group is pushed to extremes for more likes, bigger online friend groups, more followers and influencer status. We can approach this challenge in their lives with a purely moral argument and say, “That’s disgusting, why would anyone do that?” or “That’s a sin, God would be so angry.” But to kids today, it’s a normal part of their culture, like riding a bike. Our job is to understand the pressures and give kids the tools to face them. How? Ask them what they know about it. Express how you feel in a conversational, nonconfrontational way. Help them think about what it might feel like to have intimate photos of themselves forwarded to any number of peers by someone they thought they liked or trusted. A two-way dialogue can go a long way toward helping your kids understand how to minimize the legal, social and reputation risks.
Desensitization happens and it’s happening to your teens. Studies have shown that teens who send sexually explicit photos of themselves are at increased risk of becoming sexually active a year later. Considering the average age of sexting, and pornography exposure, this continues to skew younger, which means that means our kids are likely to be sexually active earlier too.
We need to teach our daughters to respect and revere their bodies and those of others as a gift from God – an incredible gift to be shared with their future husbands, not just given away randomly. This can be a difficult conversation, but it is an important part of reclaiming the narrative with our kids, from the worldly version that is bombarding them to the Godly version we are called to share. I heard a great quote once. I’m not sure who said it, but I never forgot it: “Don’t walk around advertising that your body is the best part of you, implying that your heart, mind and soul are worth less.” This is the message we need to consistently share with our daughters.
According to St. Paul (1 Corinthians), our bodies really don’t belong to us. They’ve been purchased, at a high price, by Jesus. So when we act irresponsibly with our bodies, we are jeopardizing the temple that is God’s dwelling place.
Finally, when someone shares these images, they run the risk of them being distributed around the world. The safest way to avoid a picture getting into the wrong hands is to never take it or share it. Sadly, there are cases (sometimes called “revenge porn”) where someone shares pictures that were only meant for them after a breakup.
Whether it is sports, drama, music or the butterfly club, encourage your teens to engage in activities they enjoy, even if you don’t. This is not about your enjoyment or engagement. The more a teen is engaged in activities that they like and that keep them busy, the less time they’ll have to feel bored, lonely, isolated and in search of belonging. That search for being “part of the group” can often lead to taking online risks.
If your child finds something she’s good at, it will boost her self-confidence and could
reduce the likelihood she’ll be inclined to sext. Her confidence will help strengthen her in the battle. If she’s struggling with low self-esteem, isolation, etc., consider having her volunteer at a local animal shelter or children’s hospital. Taking care of a dependent animal or offering aid to another person can help her feel immediate value.
Good friends are important to teens. A teen who doesn’t feel connected may grasp at ways to feel accepted, including sexting. Sometimes kids take advantage of peers’ desires for acceptance, even pushing them to share sexually explicit images. If a kid does that to your child, they’re no friend at all. Be supportive of your children when they seek to develop new, healthier relationships.
Parenting today is not for the faint of heart, so educate yourself and let your kids know you are there for them unconditionally.
May God bless your journey,