Sexting…that’s a scary word, isn’t it? The mere mention of it is enough to rattle any parent, for a couple reasons. First, no one wants to think about their child sending revealing photos, or sexualized messages to other people. Parents worry about this, and rightly so. Sexting has the potential to be dangerous, and it can feel hard to condone it as a healthy activity for teens to engage in.
Second, what does sexting really mean? The uncertainty of it can be very worrying. Sexting is a newer idea, coming out of a society with more access to technology and social media. It’s something the older generations didn’t grow up with. It’s scary because parents can jump to the conclusion that talking about sex equals an intention to have sex, and that’s largely not the case. Sexting actually tends to be an early experimentation phase for teens. They’re curious about sex, just like every other generation of teens before them. This is how they test the waters.
If you are concerned that your teen is sexting, it’s okay to talk about it.
Here are six tips to help:
- Create the right talking environment. It will be important to find a private place to talk with your teen about sexting, and it will be critical to make sure you are both in the right mindset to have this conversation. You know your child best; read the mood in the room before you start talking. Sometimes a good place to talk can be in the car. You could suggest that the two of you get some ice cream, like at Lake Effect in Buffalo (a personal favorite of mine). That way, you might be talking about something difficult, but at least you’ll both get ice cream out of it. Be clear, confident, and calm. You are setting an example for how to talk about difficult and awkward topics.
- Be open with the discussion. It’s okay to ask your teen what they think about sexting, what it means to them, or if they have friends who are doing it. Sexting doesn’t have to mean sending naked photos; it could mean wink face emojis and subtle sexual innuendos. You don’t need to push your teen to talk about the details if they don’t want to; the important thing is for them to hear you. Talking about sexting doesn’t need to be a full-on sex talk. Remember, sexting is usually just early experimentation that takes place before someone decides to actually have sex.
- Make it safe for them to ask questions. Let your teen know they can ask you questions without you reacting in an angry or dismissive way. If you make sexting an off-limits topic, then your teen might not have all the right information about it. Usually, teens learn about sex from their friends, or online—not the most reliable sources. If your teen is asking you questions, answer them as honestly as you can while still keeping appropriate boundaries. You are the best judge of what those boundaries are.
- Withhold judgment. Sexting doesn’t need to be a dirty word, no pun intended. It’s important to stay neutral when you talk about it with your teen. If you find out their friends are doing it, it’s not your place to talk negatively about them. That teaches your teen to criticize others and be judgmental of others. Also, your teen is less likely to come to you if they feel like you are going to judge them.
- Teach them about consent. Sexting isn’t having sex, but talking about sexting can be a good time to start talking about consent. Consent is an informed, willing decision to engage in sexual behavior. When a person consents, they should feel safe and enthusiastic about their decision, and their decision should be their own. Your teen should never feel pressured into sexting. Saying “no” means “no,” and a “yes” after being pressured is coercion, not consent. Explain this to your teen, and let them know that they can come to you if they ever feel coerced or unsafe.
- Give practical warnings. It makes sense to tell your teen what they need to know about sexting: that they can’t always trust who they meet on social media, that any pictures and messages sent can’t be taken back, and that what they do online now can affect them in their future. However, your child isn’t going to hear something any better if you repeat it five times. They’re going to hear what they hear, and the rest will be learned from experience. That can be okay. Emphasize that your child can always come to you with questions, or when they’re struggling—that’s what’s important.
Talking about sexting can be tough.
If you’ve used these tips, and it still isn’t helping you connect with your teen, then there are other steps you can take. Sometimes, teens can feel more comfortable talking to someone besides a parent, and that’s okay. If you need more support with this issue, try reaching out to others for help. Remember that the therapists at Explore What’s Next are always an option; we will know how to best support you and your teen.
Super Awesome & Poignet Photo by Guilherme Stecanell
Super Poignet Words By Super Awesome
Christine Frank, LMSW
Christine understands what it’s like when you’re trying your hardest and an invisible hand is holding you back. It doesn’t mean you’re weak, or stupid, or unworthy of good things—it just means you could use some help. Like maybe with sexting. It helps to connect with someone who knows that your stories are worth listening to. Christine will hear your story. She’s a great listener.
Christine is easy-going, friendly, empathetic, non-judgmental. She’s funny and real in a down to earth way. She loves working with pre-teens, teenagers, and young adults to help them move through those difficult life transitions where a person can feel lost.
With Christine’s guidance and encouragement you can take the first step to a happier, healthier life.
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