*Full Disclaimer* I am not an expert on adolescent psychology or sexting. I’m just a mom with a few ideas trying to figure this all out. I’m sharing in hopes it may help a parent who also did not receive the middle school version of the parenting guide.
Technology in this modern contest is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because we are constantly connected to people we care about, we will always know where our kids are (if they have a phone or other wearable technology), and because ALL THE PICTURES. It’s a curse because it gives our kids access to the whole world, literally, of pretty much everything. It also makes communication of a different, more intimate sort possible and easier than it was for us when we were in our teens. Sexting is something we should be prepared to talk about with our middle schoolers, as cringe worthy as that might feel.
Middle Schoolers, Sexting, and a Parent’s Response
In my family, we are very open about sex. We talk regularly about consent, consequences, relationships, what good relationships look like, and what bad relationships look like. My husband and I didn’t intentionally create this open environment, it just kind of happened, and, especially when our kids got older, we embraced it. My hope is that this open environment will allow our kids to come to us when things get uncomfortable in their relationships, to be open when they need help, and to learn and understand boundaries where lines may be blurry.
Recently a friend caught her middle school son “sexting”. She went through varied emotions such as fear, anger, embarrassment, and frustration. All totally understandable when considering a twelve year old was texting about sex with another twelve year old.
Unfortunately, the world moves a lot faster these days. And while I don’t condone sexting or having sex in middle school, we’d be naïve to think it doesn’t happen. So when my friend asked for help, this was the best I could come up with:
- If your child has a phone, make sure you have the passwords and are checking their phone usage on a regular basis.
- Talk to your kid about sexting: Do they know what it is?
- Talk about consequences: What is sent virtually never goes away and is easily shared. It could be considered a crime.
- Talk about consent: Does your child want to be participating in this type of conversation? Does the other person?
- Talk about boundaries: Make sure that if your child is in a relationship, he/she is comfortable setting boundaries with their partner. If their partner is not receptive to their boundaries, then talk about healthy relationships and give your child the support to get out of the relationship.
- Talk about health concerns if it goes beyond the screen: Does your child understand how to keep his/herself safe?
Those are just a few ideas of kinds of conversations you can have around sexting. It’s important that we as parents give our kids freedom to some extent, but make sure they know what is and is not acceptable both in your family and within the law. It’s easy to get angry, take away technology, and threaten to ground them for life. Maybe that would have been effective when we were kids, but it is a different world now. If we turn our cheek and think our kid would never do that, or completely lose our cool when our kids make a bad choice, we’re not preparing them to be successful.