As a parent of a teenager, is "sexting" something that I need to be concerned about? I've heard a few stories about this on the news, but I've never felt that my daughter would be susceptible to temptations of this kind. We haven't talked about it because I'm really not up to speed on the technology, nor do I know exactly what's involved. Besides, she's a really good kid. Do you think I should bring up the subject with her?
The short and simple answer is "yes." Unfortunately, sexting is a growing phenomenon among pre-teens, teens, and young adults. As a matter of fact, several studies suggest that somewhere around 20 percent of adolescents have shared nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves by way of a mobile phone or computer. And new technological developments are making this kind of activity easier and more enticing all the time. For example, a smartphone application called Snapchat (nicknamed "the sexting app") allows users to transmit photos and text messages that "disappear in seconds." 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. Without going into detail, we can assure you that 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. Law enforcement officials report that "sext" messages have become a veritable gold-mine for sexual predators in search of likely victims.
That's not to mention that teens who "sext" are ignoring the profound emotional, psychological, and spiritual aspects of human sexuality. Many of them seem to assume that this kind of activity is "harmless," since it doesn't involve actual physical sexual contact. But they're forgetting that it's impossible to indulge in this kind of counterfeit intimacy without distorting their perception of genuine relationship and cheapening the meaning of love. They're also overlooking the fact that sexting is potentially illegal: in most states, electronically transmitted photos of this nature fall into the category of child pornography.
We mention all of this because we feel strongly that you do need to educate yourself more thoroughly about this issue. We highly recommend that you take steps to develop and maintain technological savvy and keep pace with the ways that cell phones can be used.
Once you've done that, sit down and have a serious talk with your daughter about the dangers of sexting. Make it part of a larger, comprehensive conversation about sex, sexual attitudes, sexual morality, and the consequences of pre-marital sexual activity. Your child may be a "good kid," as you say, but "good kids" are every bit as interested in sex as "bad kids." And whether "good" or "bad," teens are finding that technology makes it easier and less threatening to explore and attempt to satisfy their curiosities in this area. It's precisely at this point that parents need to step in and assume full responsibility for the sexual education of their children. They need to warn kids about the potential consequences of ill-advised, impulsive sexual messaging. Above all, they need to tell them that it is never acceptable to exchange sexual photos or texts with anyone for any reason. In our technological age, this kind of open communication between parents and children is more important than ever.
If you think it would be helpful to discuss this subject with a member of our staff, please feel free to call Focus on the Family's Counseling Department at your own convenience. You may contact them for a free consultation Monday through Friday between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Mountain time at 855-771-HELP (4537). The Family Help Center staff member who answers the phone will arrange for a licensed counselor to call you back. One of them will be in touch just as soon as they're able. They'll be pleased to assist you in any way they can.
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