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What you know about sexting probably depends on your age and the age of your child.
If you have middle school aged children in the public school system, you may have heard stories directly from your children or perhaps you have already dealt with an unfortunate instance of sexting. If you have preschoolers, perhaps you’ve overheard some stories but you pray it’s only urban legend.
Wherever you are in life as you read this let me assure you: Sexting is real, it’s increasing in prevalence, and it’s not just ‘kids being kids’.
A permissive view of parenting will recommend parents allow phones, apps, and the freedom to explore who they are and connect with their friends in “meaningful and relevant ways” (in other words, do whatever they want).
When considering the raging hormones of teens, people assume this is just what teenagers do. Right? Many parents will admit that the teen years can be a time of sexual experimentation as it has been for ages. We were all teenagers once, we get it. So if this is just the way it is, what makes this generation and their experimentation any different or worse?
The difference is now our kids are becoming the creators, distributors, and viewers of child pornography.
Producing, sending, receiving, or possessing a nude or sexually explicit picture of any child under the age of 18 is illegal and potentially punishable by federal law.
Now, if I introduced you to a creepy looking middle aged man and described to you how he was a child pornographer, how he coerces children to pose for nude and provocative photos only to distribute these pictures on the internet, how would you feel? What if he lived near your home? You would be outraged. You’d loathe his despicable behavior and enlist action for him to be punished by the law.
But what if it wasn’t a middle aged man, and instead was your 14 year old neighbor boy who cuts your grass, or 12 year old niece who is as intelligent as she is talented, or even your 15 year old year old son whom you raised to know better.
The faces of child pornographers are not who you think. They are becoming the faces of our children.
Here’s why: Our kids are deceived to believe (1) the internet is safe and they are in control and (2) they only send stuff to people they know so no harm can be done.
Satan is a master manipulator, deceiver, and father of lies. In a matter of minutes he can take the insecurity and timidity of a young girl’s heart and turn it into confidence as a boy flatters her and grooms her to meet his desires.
This is what is referred to “text sex.” It’s when a conversation flows quickly and treacherously as such:
“just sitting here thinking bout how beautiful you are” and quickly moves to…
“what would we do if you were here with me right now?” and…
“it would be so hot if you gave me a BJ”
“no, well at least send me a nude pic, I can’t stop thinking about how bad I want you”
These are the conversations our teens are having. This freedom to type or photograph anything and then release it not only endangers their present life but poses an increasing and unknown risk to their future.
Allowing a generous plausibility, perhaps this conversation would occur between a young dating couple. Their level of infatuation with one another coupled with their magnified hormones could definitely lead to a conversation such as this. Equally as dangerous for a teen who’d like to stay pure, but somewhat understandable. The problem, however, is this conversation is happening casually between classmates who aren’t in a relationship. Just acquaintances who have bought into the cultural lie that sex is casual and can be simply requested.
We must admit to ourselves that we do not know the long term consequences of our children’s on-line behaviors to their future. Will these threads come back to haunt them? Where are copies of their nude pictures actually stored? We do know higher education establishments and employers are researching candidates’ on-line history to evaluate their character. Is Distributor of Child Pornography a label you want associated with your child’s name all because they caved to sexting pressure?
Sadly, this potential reality is overlooked by most parents. They continue to flow with the status quo and “hope” their children make good choices.
It is imperative for parents to recognize all children with phones and/or access to the internet are equally vulnerable to fall prey. All parents must be proactive and intentional at preventing this behavior.
The best of kids: straight As, Eagle Scouts, home schooled, private schooled, nerdy gamers, elite athletes, devoted followers of Christ – all can become ensnared.
Where hormones and peer pressure are strong; flesh and resolve is weak.
SO WHAT SHOULD PARENTS DO?
Restrict access at young ages. Never allow a child or tween to have unrestricted access to the internet, social media, or games with messaging. Pornography will find your children and when it does it rewires their brain to believe porn is okay and normal. This leaves them extremely susceptible to “joining” the porn culture with their own material as they get older.
Restrict access during middle school years. Since the average age of exposure to porn is 9 years old, chances are they have been exposed in some regard. You must remain vigilant during these years of peer pressure and raging hormones. If they think it’s normal and okay they will jump right on to the bandwagon. Don’t allow phone apps such as Snap Chat that give the illusion of privacy and evanescence. Limit internet use and monitor all websites visited. Circle is a great way to set up internet timers and monitoring in your home.
Don’t allow phones in the bedroom at night. This is prime private time when sin can reign in the darkness. Restricting texting time and wifi access overnight (Circle can do this for you) is another way to ensure teens aren’t sexting when they should be sleeping.
Turn off the camera. Do not be bullied by society to believe your child “needs” to have a camera on their phone. Think of it as protecting them from becoming child pornographers. iPhone camera functionality is easily disabled under Settings<General<Restrictions. Android devices have apps such as Cameraless but can be easily turned back on by the user. Applications such as MMGuardian are a better option for fully monitoring android phones.
Read text messages. This is the best way to discover what type of on-line friendships your children have. If you suspect they are deleting their text threads, consider a program such as Dr Fone (for iOS) or Dr. Fone (for Android) to retrieve deleted pictures and texts. Look out for “text sex” threads which threaten your child’s resolve. Don’t expect your child to have the immediate strength to shut these conversations down. They need you – the parent – to guide them out of these perilous threads.