What to do when you discover your teen is sexting. Hint: Skip the lecture.
Don’t panic. It’s not an emergency. Before you do or say anything, make sure you have a game plan. Talk to your partner if you have one to think through what you want to say, and make sure you’re not reactive or fearful when you go to your son.
Take your cues from your teen. If your kid is doing great in school, isn’t smoking pot, has healthy relationships with friends, and is developing into a functional adult, he deserves more privacy than someone who doesn’t have those things going for him.
Realize that things are different now. They’re experimenting a lot earlier than we did when we were kids. They have a lot more exposure to sex of every kind through their peers and the Internet. So help them through it. Be curious and non-judgmental. Take this as an opportunity to get to know your teen and what he or she is dealing with.
Skip the lecture. Think kids aren’t going to communicate their feelings through this new technology? Or that you can clamp down on biology? That’s not going to happen. You’re better off asking questions and having an open conversation versus lecturing or attempting to control their behavior. That’s when kids go underground and think they can’t talk to their parents about anything.
Humor helps. Tell a story about a relationship you had at that age. Or, to open the conversation, you might just smile and say something as simple as, “Well, I guess you’re growing up.”
Choose the right time. Imagine that your son has either a green light or a red light on his forehead anytime you try to talk to him. If you don’t have the green light, you’re not going to get anywhere. (You can almost always tell by how they respond to the first thing you say to them, no matter how innocuous.)
Avoid trying for a “look-me-in-the-eye conversation.” Talking to teen boys face-to-face can feel confrontational. Suggest going for a walk instead—or wait until you’re driving together—so your teen feels more comfortable talking to you about such a personal topic.
Use this as an opportunity to have a broader conversation with your teen. It’s a chance to talk not just about safe sex and what can happen in a digital world—where sexting messages can follow you to job interviews and beyond—but what a healthy relationship looks like.
Get to know his girlfriend. You won’t have any influence if you don’t have a relationship with her. Invite her over for dinner if you haven’t already met her. If he balks (remember that he might feel awkward introducing you), find other ways to include her. Be patient and take it slow.
Talk to her parents if something dangerous is happening—like the girl is sharing nude photos of herself. Even then, it’s best to talk to your son first. Let him know what you’re going to do and why, so it’s not a surprise. Educate him about the potential risks and consequences of such behavior; that he can be charged with harassment, bullying, or even child pornography, which is why you’re talking this step to protect her.
Realize that your child wants you to be the parent. It’s easy to forget that when you see your child is so peer oriented. But your teen wants your guidance—as long as you’re matter of fact and don’t lose your cool. Even if they resist you, they want your help.
Photo: Phil Campbell/Flickr