Sexting

Why is my child sexting?! And, what-in-the-world should I do about it?

Feeling baffled by a recent discovery of your child’s {sexual} phone or internet behavior?

Beyond shaming your child (and yourself!), here are a few thoughts to consider, some action steps, and some links to get you connected to the help you may desire.

 

 

Before the “Why” and “What To Do” Questions:

 

Mother and Teen in ConflictBefore we answer the “why” and “what to do” questions, we’d like to invite you to stop for a few minutes and pay attention to all that you are feeling. Let’s mention a few common inner beliefs that may be driving your response to your daughter’s/son’s behavior.

 

  • “After all the time and energy I’ve invested in trying to raise him/her right! What a slap in the face!”

Sometimes our children’s behaviors are a cry for our attention or a power play so they can prove that we are not the “boss of them.” However, all child behavior is not directly about the parent. Sometimes they behave in certain ways because there’s something much bigger and much more powerful going on. Peer pressure, developmental stages, a lapse in judgment, the power of hormones, a spiritual battle, deeper unmet needs, etc. Be careful not to personalize something that isn’t intended as a slight against Mom or Dad.

  • “This kind of behavior is reeeeally problematic. He’s/She’s probably ruined for life.”

There is no denying that sexting and sexual acting out behaviors can create a host of negative repercussions for our children. There may be some pretty difficult discussions and days ahead, but there is always hope for restoration and healing.

  • “Man, I am such a failure as a parent.”

As parents, we have a huge task: loving, discipling, teaching, encouraging, providing, disciplining, modeling – plus all the other stuff like feeding, clothing, driving places, practices/games, homework, etc. We sometimes add to our To Do list, “controlling the outcome.” Is there room for improvement in your parenting? Probably so, since we’re all imperfect. But black and white thinking that brands you (or your son/daughter) as a complete failure means that your whole identity is now summed up by this set of circumstances. Such an assessment doesn’t account for all that you are as a parent, all that your daughter/son is as a child or person, or the fact that you have many responsibilities and none of them include controlling the outcome.

  • “This sex-saturated, media-filled, techno-savvy world we are living in is an all-powerful evil and makes me feel hopeless as a parent.”

Absolutely, much evil exists in our world. So much misinformation about sexuality; so many bad influences. It’s very true that our battles are not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, powers and spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12).

Paul’s reminder in Romans 8 seems appropriate for us today:

“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us… In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:31-35, 37)

Sarah Young says it so well in Jesus Calling: “When you commune with Me [the Lord]…Together we will push back the darkness, for I am the Light of the world.”[1] Sometimes it’s really difficult to remember that Satan is not all powerful; only the Lord Most High is all powerful. See the Lord comes with power, and He rules with a mighty arm. (Isaiah 40:10) And, walking with Him, we are able to push back the darkness.

Talk to someone.

Do you feel shocked, sad, embarrassed, disappointed (in your son/daughter? Or in yourself?), disrespected, hurt, or ill-equipped? It will be very helpful for you to find a safe, healthy place to vent and process your underlying feelings… so they don’t all come flying out like daggers when you are talking with your child. Not exactly sure that you have a “safe” venting place? Here are a few thoughts on safe versus unsafe friends. And, below are a few Scriptures and prayers to spend some time with, prior to your conversation with your son or daughter. Feel like you might want to talk to a professional counselor for more support or for more specific help and direction? Contact us here or check out our information on counselors here.

 

More on Venting to a safe friend.

 

Choose at least one safe person to share your heart with.

 

Deb Laaser defines safe community this way: “It is a place where you can open your heart, admit your inadequacies, own your mistakes, share your anger and grief, or just vent. You can be you, with all of your flaws, and still be accepted and encouraged and loved. In return, a safe person will also share their stories, be vulnerable, and not try to fix you. They will listen to you, comfort you, and encourage you. That is safe community.”[2]

 

 

More on Scriptures and prayers to meditate on prior to talking to your teen.

 

Come to the Lord with this particular struggle and ask Him for help in trusting Him and overcoming your fears.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7

 

Ask for the Lord to help you see yourself, your motivations, and your actions clearly.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 22:23-24

 

Pray for discernment as you begin to seek Godly counsel for your next steps. Pray that He would give you wisdom to know when, how, and with whom to share. Also ask for discernment regarding your daughter, for insight regarding her world, her experience, her heart, and how she thinks.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5

“A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Proverbs 25:11

 

Ask the Lord to give you the courage to have difficult conversations or to set difficult boundaries, and to follow through with consequences.

“With Your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall… It is God who arms me with strength…” 2 Samuel 22:30, 33

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 5:9

 

Ask the Lord to help you find the right help for you and your family. We are often reminded that we were made to be in meaningful community; pray for the Lord to help you find at least one person to walk with you in this journey.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17

“If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” Ecclesiastes 4:11

“Surely you need guidance to wage war, and victory is won through many advisers.” Proverbs 24:6

 

More on finding a professional counselor to support you in this process.

 

Contact us for further help.

 

“Why is my child doing this?”

 

Well, it appears that girls have received the clear message. Her thinking may go like this:

 

teen-mother-fatherThis is what boys want and expect to receive (either directly, from boys they know and female friends who have already given in – or indirectly, from media and our sexualized culture). In order to gain the attention of a boy, or to hold his attention, sharing yourself sexually is the price you can expect to pay in order to be desired and pursued. Even if it’s “only” through images and words. Or don’t sext. Just be lonely. And feel like a prude who is missing out. Watch those who are more sexually available or “confident,” “comfortable” and “liberated” get all the attention and have all the fun.

 

Isn’t that how the media sells it now – as if freedom and fulfillment are the end results of being sucked into the tsunami of {meaningless} hookup sex?

 

We know that the male brain is wired for visual stimulation, so it is not shocking that they are interested in viewing the naked female body. Nor is it shocking that boys may imagine females being equally interested in (or aroused by) viewing the naked male body. Additionally, it may be that the young male’s view of females and his expectations of what is normal in a romantic relationship are being shaped not only by his peers and our sex-saturated society, but also by the ever-present availability of pornography. One effect of pornography is the increased objectification of females – seeing them only as a sexual object or “part” – rather than as a whole human being with talents, interests, needs, abilities, emotions, a soul, etc. When we really boil it down, isn’t that exactly what is communicated when our youth request a naked picture? It’s not, “I’m interested in you.” It’s, “I’m interested in your chest.” Or, “I’m interested in your sexual availability.” What may feel like attention or affection, is most likely (at its core), simply lust.

 

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy conducted an online survey in 2008, with a total of 1,280 respondents—653 teens (ages 13-19) and 627 young adults (ages 20-26). Their findings show that girls tend to cite “pressure from guys” as a reason for sending sexual content, but they also use sexting to communicate interest and hope that he will be wooed by the content.[3] Statistically, boys tended to send this content in order to “bait” a girl – to see if she would be interested in “hooking up.” The most common reason given for sending sexy content is “to be fun or flirtatious.” 52% of girls stated they used sexting as a “sexy present” for their boyfriends. Additional common answers are that they sent sexual content as a “joke” or to “feel sexy.”

 

Even “good” girls who are “committed to sexual purity” and “saving themselves sexually” are engaging in sexting as a way to keep a guy on the hook, without “compromising themselves sexually.”3[4] Unfortunately, they are unaware that even these behaviors undermine God’s best for them and their boyfriends.

 

Findings from the study reveal:

  • 20% of teens surveyed have sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves (22% of teen girls and 18% of teen boys).
  • 39% of all teens surveyed have sent or posted sexually suggestive messages (37% of teen girls and 40% of teen boys).
  • Most (85%) are primarily sending images to someone that they know personally (not strictly an online connection).
  • Almost 50% of teens surveyed say that they have received sexually explicit messages.
  • 71% of the teen girls and 67% of the teen guys (who sent/posted the content) say they sent or posted this content to a boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • Sexting begets sexting… 44 Percent of both teen girls and teen boys surveyed say they sent sexually suggestive messages or images in response to receiving such content.
  • Many of the teens surveyed (44%) are aware that the content will likely be shared with someone other than the intended recipient. (Remember, developmentally, this age group tends to feel invincible and does not believe that any real harm would come to him/her… only to others. Calculating long-term costs and realizing the weight of the negative consequences is not a forte’ for this age group.)

 

Parenthetically, Focus on the Family explains a new smartphone application called Snapchat (aka: “the sexting app”) which “allows users to transmit photos and text messages that ‘disappear in seconds.’[5] This encourages some teens to think that it’s relatively ‘safe’ to send out risqué or pornographic pictures of themselves. They’re seriously mistaken, of course. Digital images are forever, no matter what the creators and purveyors of Snapchat may say… there are actually a number of ways in which these images can be captured, stored, and shared. And once they’re ‘out there,’ there’s no telling where they might end up.” Teens who see themselves as invincible fail to realize that sext messages are also a great tool for sexual predators hunting for their next victim because they identify an “easy target” and open the door for grooming and sexualized conversations.

 

What Now?

Beyond shaming your child (and yourself!) – here are some action steps.

 

Talk.

Talk with your child about what it feels like to be him or her right now. What led to him/her feeling that sexting was something she needed to do? Sure, it was a joke – a rash decision without a lot of thought. But, really. When he/she compares him/herself to peers, how does he/she feel? (Less sexually attractive? Less sexually available? Less sexually experienced?) What does she think guys want (or vice versa)? What makes him/her think that? How would it feel to fight against the sexual tidal wave that is upon us all? How can you help empower him/her? What does he/she view as his/her best strengths and assets?

 

Try to help him/her look at what was fueling his/her behaviors. Chances are – your child is not even aware of deeper motivations. Perhaps underneath the sexting is an insecurity and a desire to have a male say that she is, in fact, beautiful or hot. Who doesn’t desire to be desired? And perhaps she fears that no guy would be interested in her otherwise. Perhaps your son is tired of being harassed about his lack of sexual experience. Perhaps he feels like “less of a man” because he hasn’t had any brag-worthy encounters. Don’t buy into the “it was a joke” line. More likely, it was intended to garner a certain response, like acceptance or affection from peers or from a guy or girl – and if it didn’t accomplish that purpose – then, “it was a joke” is an easy out.

 

Be intentional about relational connection.

Will your child share honestly with you about relational, sexual, peer struggles? Do your very best to connect and prove that you are available and willing to listen and dialogue (not to be confused with preaching and lecturing). Ask your child if there is anything you do that causes him/her to feel unable to share honest fears and concerns with you. Also, don’t buy into the lie that says your child never hears anything you say and will never listen to you. Extensive research points to the unparalleled longing for   young people to hear from their parents on important issues (even the uncomfortable ones they tend to avoid).[6] You can’t necessarily measure the input you are having on your child’s life by his/her current response to you or even by his/her current choices. Be consistent in your efforts to connect and communicate openly about difficult topics.

 

Bring in the reinforcements.

While your voice cannot be replaced in your child’s life, it can be silenced (by cultural influences that shout way-too-loudly, particularly on topics where we remain silent) or enhanced (by an additional wise and loving “voice of reason” that happens to be endorsing the same messages you express). Increasing relational supports and accountability may prove beneficial. Consider finding a counselor, mentor, small group leader, a mature (but youthful) adult – who can listen, support, and be a supplemental voice of truth. Make sure this person shares your values!

 

Set boundaries.

Consider putting limits on how often your child can be on his/her phone. We know a family that keeps a basket by the front door. All phones go into the basket upon entering the house. This promotes actual relational interaction when at home. If your child’s phone is a permanent appendage to the body, you might want to moderate that a bit. (Be advised, you might have to model this change yourself. Yikes!) How about a family conversation about pros and cons of always being on the phone and changes the family might want to commit to making together?

 

You pay for the phone and the services on that phone.

Your checking out what is on it is your parental responsibility. Some parents have their child “turn their phone in” to Mom and Dad every night and review the child’s daily activity. The intent is not strictly to “catch” wrongdoing, but to offer accountability and to generate conversations as our youth learn how to navigate these complex, hormone-laden years. We also encourage having passwords to all your child’s online accounts, monitoring them, and then having open conversations about the content.

 

Increase monitoring and filtering.

Install software (see our page on software resources). Change settings. Keep IPad, laptops, etc. in common areas in the home. Here’s a website that offers reviews of several phone monitoring software options: http://cell-phone-parental-control-software-review.toptenreviews.com/. Just to give you a taste of all that can be monitored, filtered, limited, or “controlled”… Options include 1) report and logging of: call history/details, texts, emails, GPS, pictures, internet use, videos, calendar updates, bookmarks; 2) a range of features: application blocking, keyword alerts, ability to filter, web blocking, time blocking, restricting numbers, contact blocking or flagging; and 3) security and tracking: encrypted communication, SIM change, remote wipe, remote lock, and GPS fencing.

 

Get resourced.

 

Here are several books that might be helpful:

5 Conversations You Must Have with your Daughter by Vicky George

5 Conversations You Must Have with your Son by Vicky George

Beginning the Path to Purity by Laura Gallier

Choosing To Wait (for Parents) by Laura Gallier

Why Wait? (For Teens) by Laura Gallier

The Naked Truth by Laura Gallier

Resources Recommended by the ministry Focus on the Family

Protecting Your Teen from Disturbing Behaviors: Helping Your Teen Overcome Today’s Issues (book)
Plugged-in Parenting: How to Raise Media-Savvy Kids with Love, Not War (book)
From Santa to Sexting: Keeping Kids Safe, Strong and Secure in Middle School (book)
Protecting Your Tech-Savvy Teen from Pornography (broadcast)
Parenting an Online Generation (broadcast)

Articles Recommended by the ministry Focus on the Family

Staying On Top of Your Teen’s Technology
Tech Support for Parents
Have We Gone Crazy?
Why Not Porn? Is Pornography Truly That Bad?

 

[1] Sarah Young, 2004, Jesus Calling (from September 4).

[2] Debra Laaser, 2008, Shattered Vows: Hope and Healing for Women Who Have Been Sexually Betrayed, p. 52

[3] Statistics cited are from National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted pregnancy. It was conducted by tRu, a global leader in research on teens and 20-somethings. For additional data, please visit www. The NationalCampaign.org/sextech or contact the national Campaign at 202.478.8500.)

[4] Email communication with Heather Bullock, Pure Freedom, 8/13/13.

[5] Focus on The Family, 5/28/13, “Do I need to be concerned and talk to my teenager about ‘sexting’?” http://family.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/26494/kw/sexting

[6] Chap Clark, 2004, Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers (Youth, Family, and Culture)