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Let’s Talk About Sexting, Baby

A study about teen sexting is helping me settle an ungoing debate with a fellow mom of teens/young adults.

She’s always maintained that sexting was something that needed boundaries, but that was actually a safer alternative to real life experiences of teens having sex with each other.

I’ve argued the opposite: that sexting wasn’t a substitute for sex, that it was a provocative exchange that probably increased the likelihood of those teens being sexually active.

Who was right?

Science says: I was. The study showed that sexting teens were more likely to be sexually active and more likely to be engaged in risky behaviors, including unsafe sex, than those who haven’t sexted.  Now, I typically love being right, but not in this case. Because it’s truly hard to know how to help kids with these types of choices.

My sons don’t want to be the poster children for sexting intervention, for sure, but I can share I have seen and heard some things as a parent of young men. We frequently talk about sex, safe sex, respectful sex, drugs, alcohol, safe driving, group dynamics, bullying, bystander behavior, you name it. I’m a pro at making my kids uncomfortable with long conversations. I highly recommend road trips, by the way, because everyone is trapped, and there is something helpfully confessional about not making eye contact sometimes.

But with all of that talking, I never had a sexting conversation with either of them, until a friend of theirs fell into serious problems when an underage girl began sexting him unsolicited and he didn’t do enough to stop it.

We talked about that. And then we talked about everything else. I heard some crazy stories, about photos shared after breakups, about group messages, about some sort of digital Spring Break scavenger hunt game, the details of which I have blocked out because of PTSD, unsee, unsee! I also hear some very basic stories, about trying to figure out how to connect and be free. About how to have relationships. Oh, it’s all so challenging and new and tender. Some of it is not my business. But a lot of it I’m going to talk about anyway, respectfully but as an adult who is charged with guiding them, just so they know that I can bear to talk about it, so they know they can come to me to talk about anything.

Talking about sexting, the good, the bad, and the virtual bumping of uglies, might be the only thing you can do.

Awkward? YES. For everyone. But necessary. They need to know the ramifications of their choices to sext, and the impact of receiving the same. They need problem-solving ideas and tools. They need boundaries, or more to the point, they need help discerning and setting internal boundaries. They need to know who they can go to if things get out of hand. As parents, we need clues to know what ELSE we should be talking about with them.

Believe me, I’m a lot more comfortable with the Vagina Monologues than with the Sexting Dialogues, especially with sons. But if I can do it, so can you. None of us saw this coming. I come from a time when unless you were one of the fortunate ones with a private line (luxury!) or, later, a pager, callers to your home had to risk talking to your parent before being able to flirt with you, and our photos were either vetted at the Fotomat or in the Yearbook Class darkroom.  We still figured out how to have sex and out share of risky behaviors lack of technology not-withstanding, but I’d hate to imagine myself coming of age in the time of sexting.  Photos can be shared forever, not to mention the other ramifications.

I wish I had been wrong and that sexting wasn’t a big deal, but it could be. It’s definitely something to talk about.

 

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