(Part 2) – Check out Part 1, How to Talk to Your Teen About Sexting

In part one, we talked about giving your child a smartphone and what they need to know about sexting to protect themselves. Now, regardless of how you found out, you know your teenage son or daughter is sexting. Step #1, get a hold of your own emotions—embarrassment, guilt, disappointment, shock, anger—so you can have a productive conversation with your teen. If you need to go for a walk, phone a friend, talk to your spouse—whatever. It’s completely okay to tell your teen, “We’ll discuss this tomorrow.It’s not only okay, but it is also very wise. You have thoughts to get together.

Thought #1: What do I want to accomplish with this conversation—for my teen and for myself as a parent? Don’t rush thinking this through. Have goals.

Thought #2: This isn’t going to be a one-time talk. You want to open the door for an ongoing conversation about sexting as well as other difficult teen conversations—pornography, sex, drugs, alcohol, dating violence, etc. You want to be an empathetic, askable parent who your teen feels comfortable talking to about anything.

Thought #3: Try to find a time and place that allows for private undistracted, uninterrupted conversation. 

[Here’s an example of a real conversation about pornography. Notice the parent doesn’t lecture, doesn’t ask a million questions, doesn’t guilt-trip their child. The parent clearly doesn’t condone pornography but is more interested in gently probing their teen’s thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. This doesn’t mean there will be no consequences. But the parent is trying to build a relationship to keep these kinds of talks going.]

Step 1

In a calm, direct voice, ask your teen about the circumstances around the sexting. Then wait and really listen to them without judgmental faces or tones. Keep your mind and your body language open. You can disapprove of what your teen did but still be deeply concerned about them, validate their feelings, and the fallout of their choices. 

✦A word about punishments for sexting. The normal, obvious go-to is to take their phone away. Maybe you need to in their situation. This might be their 5th offense. They may not be ready for the responsibility that comes with a smartphone. Maybe they need an off-the-shelf phone that just allows them to talk and text. 

I don’t usually dabble in how parents punish their kids. Every kid and every family is different. I will say this: I’m a big fan of letting the universe handle some of the disciplining of my kids. I’m referring to natural and logical consequences. Sometimes the punishment is built into the poor choice. The choice to sext often has some built-in consequences like guilt, humiliation, a destroyed reputation, being bullied online and in real life, getting in trouble at school, the law getting involved, and on and on. You know your child better than anyone. How are they navigating these consequences? Do you need to drop the hammer on them or help them up? We’ve all done something we regretted. Making mistakes is a normal part of growing up. The important thing is to learn from it.

Step 2

Ask probing questions. NOTE: This is different than an interrogation. As you have a conversation, try to work in some of these questions.

  • What do you get out of sexting? How does it make you feel?
  • Did you feel pressured to do it?
  • Did the recipient promise not to show anyone?
  • What is considered “normal” about sexting among your peers?
  • Have you received sexts? What did you do with them?
  • Are there things on your phone you wouldn’t want me to see?
  • What has been the fallout of your sexting?
  • Do you think sexting is wrong? Why or why not?

Resist the urge to lecture or ask a million follow-up questions. Act comfortable and be direct. Show you’re really listening and trying to understand your teen and let them feel heard. You may not get to all this in one conversation. That’s okay. Know when to stop the conversation. You can always pick it back up. Let your teen know you love them no matter what.

Step 3

There are some things your teen needs to know about sexting. (They will roll their eyes. Ignore it.) You have a responsibility as a parent to make sure they know and understand certain things. So what are you supposed to do, whether you think your teen is sexting already or whether you’re worried they might start in the future? Believe it or not, you’re not completely powerless. So what can you do? Sheknows.com breaks it down.

  • Talk to your teen. A scary thought for many of us, but one of those unavoidable responsibilities of parenting. Talk to them about the possible long-term consequences of getting involved in sexting. Like the fact that nude images of kids under age 18 are child pornography, which is illegal. Talk about the short-term consequences, like the whole school getting a hold of a “private” photo shared with a former boyfriend or girlfriend. Talk about self-esteem and self-respect. Consider how you might be setting yourself up for a lot of drama.
  • Set rules. Do you let your kids drive drunk? Do you let them ride in the car with no seat belts? So why give them something as dangerous as a cell phone and not establish rules? Start random phone checks, and go through everything on it regularly.
  • Take away the cell phone. Drastic, yes, but sometimes necessary when nothing else is working. If you truly don’t trust your child, why would you trust them with a tool they can use to bully others? 

Resources:

Common Sense Media: Sexting Handbook

Amanda Todd Legacy Society

Amanda Todd YouTube Video (Some might find content disturbing.)

6 Things Every Teen Needs to Know About Sexting

Why Is Sexting a Problem for Teens?

The Consequences of Sexting for Teens

If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

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