Did you know, sexting is the 6th largest major health concern among children. According to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, it ranks right below child abuse and of more concern that teen pregnancy and school violence.
Could explain why my recent post about sexting went viral.
That’s a problem. Sexting is a problem.
We’re not talking about it. That is also a problem.
If you’re a parent, I don’t envy your calling right now. You’r trying to figure out how to raise children in a world where babies learn to play with technology before they even know how to read. A world where, from day 1, kids are instagrammed, snap chatted, and Facebooked incessantly. You have to navigate sex in the tech age with kids who haven’t even hit puberty yet.
I don’t envy you, but let me try to help you.
One day, your child, male or female, will likely be the giver or the recipient of this request:
If you wait to talk to your child until after they get that text, you’ve waited too long.
Unless you have established a system of open communication with your child, where he or she can come to you with anything, you cannot expect this to be brought up. Instead, your child will try to tackle the problem alone, ask their friends, or, better yet, ask the internet.
In that moment, your child will be left with a life-altering choice: Bare all in the name of acceptance, even ‘love’ and make a decision that could forever plague them, or stand their ground and be strong enough to say no, regardless of the cost.
Every parent wants the latter for their children. How do you get there?
Let’s pull our heads out of the sand for a moment here.
It is more likely than not that your child will, in fact, either be asked or ask for nude pictures before the age of 18. Those are the stats. You need to operate under the assumption there are sharks in the water and stop kidding yourself by thinking your kids are playing in a puddle.
Why does this matter?
Addressing sexting and other aspects of internet safety with your children opens up the opportunity for them to invite you to intervene when those situations arise.
It also keeps you in tune to those realities as well. If you have convinced yourself that sexting isn’t a problem- at least not for your kids- you won’t be watching for it, guarding against it, and your kids won’t come to you if they encounter it. It’s as simple as that.
Your initial reaction to all of this might be, “Well, I won’t give my kids a cell phone… EVER.”
When it comes to teching-up their kids, parents tend to go all or nothing. They either give their 8-year-old a smart phone and say ‘he’ll figure it out’ or they ban all forms of social media until their children retire.
Both approaches are reckless.
Giving your child a smart phone without having a discussion about internet safety and pornography (highly recommend this book for that), is about as responsible as handing them the keys to the car without any prior instruction, no classes, no nothing. You don’t “just give” your kids keys to the car, don’t “just give” them smart phones either.
Treat having a smart phone as a responsibility, not a right.
On the other hand, locking your child away in a tech-free box is ineffective. What happens, mom or dad, when Rapunzel turns 18, goes off to college, gets a job and buys her own phone? With all of this newfound freedom, what happens when the college boys send her that text? What happens when she cracks out her phone to look up directions and a porn pop-up shows up? What then?
I am in full support of not giving children smart phones. There is no reason for your pre-teen to need a phone that has a camera and access to the internet. They don’t need it.
But, at some point, your child is going to have some piece of smart tech. Whether that’s a phone, computer, tablet, or who knows what else don’t give it to them until you’ve had a conversation about internet safety and expectations. You also shouldn’t give it to them without some sort of filter or monitoring software.
Stop paying for porn to have unhindered access to your kids.
Last, but certainly not least, perhaps the most important thing of all.
You might think, “Well, I’ve told my kids they can tell me anything.” That’s not enough. It’s one thing for you to tell them that, it’s an entirely different thing for them to believe it. Do your children believe that you want them to tell you everything? Do they believe that you care?
You know you care, but have you shown them that you care about them- about how they are experiencing life? I know parents are often counseled against being friends with their kids. After all, your job is to parent them, right? Not to be buddy buddy with them.
But just like a manager can’t effectively manage a team they don’t know, and a teacher cannot effectively teach students she doesn’t know, parents cannot effectively parent kids they don’t actually know.
Perhaps you’re thinking, Of course I know my kids!
I had a father approach me after a recent event. I had shared my story and talked about the importance of ‘seeing’ the women who struggle. He said that part stuck out to him because his 12-year-old daughter was constantly saying that, “Dad, I just want you to see me!”
Of course, he’s looking right at her when she’s saying this and he’s thinking, “What are you talking about? I see you! You’re right here! I know you!” After all, he’d been with her her whole life.
He asked me what he should do. He had noticed she was acting differently. He didn’t think it was porn, but he wasn’t sure. He didn’t think it was sexting, but he wasn’t sure. He didn’t think it was friends at school, but he wasn’t sure. He didn’t think it was him and his wife, but he wasn’t sure.
“Have you asked her?”
I encouraged him to do something I encourage every parent to do, sit down with her and say, “If you had to write out your life story today, what would it say?”
Give your kids free reign to say whatever they would like. They may misinterpret, or misremember, but don’t butt in to correct. They may say things that upset you. They may completely misunderstand why you have ‘silly rules.’ Still, let your children talk. Get to know them. Understand the world they’re growing up in and how they’re interacting with it. Let them tell you all about it. It is so different from yours.
Let them know you’re listening, that you actually welcome them to come to you with everything. (Side note: Isn’t that how God wants us to come to him?)
There’s no fool-proof way to prevent your child from ever sexting (sorry). But if you keep that conversation open, keep a level head, and stay involved in their lives, you are more likely to raise a child who will be secure, confident, and able to say no.