Awkward! How (and Why) to Have a Conversation About Sexting with Your Kids
It came up on Facebook again today. What do you do when you find your child has been sexting? It’s nauseating to even think about it, isn’t it? Awhile back, I was shocked when one of my friends told me she’d found a series of explicit texts on her son’s phone, but now we’re hearing about it all the time.
It’s way easier to head this stuff off beforehand than it is to pick up the pieces afterward, so let’s talk about how to address this with our kids.
When do you need to talk about it?
Pretty much as soon as they have any access to a device that takes pictures – very young indeed for many kids.
You can start out by talking about taking pictures. What kind of photos are good to take and what kind aren’t. For example, we don’t want to take photos that could embarrass someone. Sure, it’s funny, but how would you feel?
Then move on to, “You know, some photos are just wrong. It’s wrong to take pictures of someone who’s not properly dressed. Our bodies are supposed to be a gift for our husbands or wives alone. If you are ever tempted to do that, remember you can get in horrible trouble, so don’t!”
And mention, “What should you do if anyone ever tries to show you a picture of someone who’s not dressed? That’s right, you turn away and come tell us immediately. It’s wrong, and it can be illegal, too, so you don’t want to have anything to do with that.”
Don’t forget to teach them how to face down dares. “When someone says, ‘You’re just afraid!” remember that only someone who’s afraid would do something they know is wrong because someone dared them to! You be the one brave enough to do what’s right.” Teaching your children those things will help protect them.
Older kids need more detailed information.
If your children are texting or messaging others, they need to know some things.
Once you send something online, it’s there forever. Even if you use Snapchat or another “disappearing” message service, all it takes is a screenshot and the recipient has a permanent record. Even if they don’t, it resides on the service’s servers and could be accessed in the future. If you don’t want to see it on TV when you are running for the Senate, don’t send it.
Once you send a picture to a friend, it’s out of your control. All it takes is a few keystrokes for an angry friend to post a picture to everybody. Some poor kids have found that even moving to another town isn’t enough – the photo followed them.
Taking, sending, receiving, even possessing an indecent photo of someone under 18 is a felony. Here’s a story of someone facing eight years in prison for one count of it. (affiliate link) Most kids have no idea! They can’t see that there’s anything especially wrong with looking at a picture of someone their age or sending a picture of themselves. They need to know this wrecks lives.
Most importantly, it’s sin, serious sin. Matthew 5:28 tells us, “I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
But, what do you do if it’s too late?
What if you find this stuff on their phone? Then it’s time to intervene.
Sit down with them and talk about God’s design for sexuality. Use the Word of God and talk about sexuality in the context of marriage, childbearing, and family life. Here are some resources to help, especially our talk, “Shining Armor.”
Discuss the dangers of having photos out there. It’s there forever and it’s out of their control. There are some heartbreaking videos of teens talking about the torment they’ve gone through when a picture like this got out.
Explain the potential consequences to sharing photos of underage kids, even themselves. It’s a prison-term offense if you’re tried as an adult and they need to know that.
Drive home to them that the biggest problem is sin. Sin brings condemnation, “For the wages of sin is death,” but thankfully, that’s not the end of the story, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.” That’s the real issue. We need to repent and believe. Catching your child in this kind of sin may be just the wake up call they need to bring them to Christ.
Practically, sexual sin is addictive, particularly porn. They are going to need pretty constant supervision for awhile to break the habit even when they really want to. We call this intense discipleship. Get accountability on every internet capable device in your home. Here’s the one we use. (affiliate link) Ask them pretty frequently, “How’s your thought life? How can I pray for you? How can I help you?”
Take away their internet access and phone for a time (but not for ages, they need to learn to use it wisely before they leave home!)
Keep talking. Ultimately, it’s an issue of the heart, so snatching them bald-headed isn’t going to have much of an effect if they are still rebellious – the most closely watched teen can still get into trouble if they want to badly enough. LISTEN. TALK. Take them to the Word. Pray. They need a change of heart – and only the Lord can do that.
Yours in the battle,
Hal & Melanie
For more on teaching your boys particularly a Biblical view of sexuality, get our book, Raising Real Men, 2011 Christian Small Publishers Book of the Year