This article is the seventh and final column in the series on how parents can address the issue of sexting with their teenage children. It is the continuation of suggestions begun in Part 6 on what to do if you discover your kid has sexted.
Inform the parents of the co-sextee. While you are not responsible for determining what is appropriate for some else’s kid, in this instance it is important to contact the parents of your kid’s sexting partner. They are both involved in illegal behavior. The parents of your kid’s sexting partner need to know. You need to be seen as taking proactive measures in addressing this issue if things take a legal turn. Stick to the facts. Tell them what actions you are taking. Talk in terms of decisions made by both kids.
Be prepared for the possibility that the parents of your kid’s sexting partner will blame your kid. Parents often think first about the evil influence of the girlfriend/boyfriend that has led their little angel astray. (You probably had similar thoughts when you found out about the sexting.) Keep your cool. Maintain a position of compassion toward them. If the accusations get too personal, end the conversation rather than getting drawn into a “whose kid is the worst” kind of argument. “I don’t appreciate you speaking about my son/daughter that way. S/he certainly has some responsibility for this situation. I wanted to make sure you knew what we discovered in case you weren’t aware of it. All the images have been deleted on our kid’s devices. Please make sure that this happens on your end. We will be addressing it with him/her. Let us know if you discover anything else involving sexting that we need to be aware of.”
Re-establish trust. Teenagers make mistakes. Sexting is a really significant error in judgment. There are several ways for your kid to begin the process of reestablishing trust. First, they must be able to talk to you in a convincing way about why sexting was a serious mistake. You can’t even consider giving them access again to electronic means of communication if they don’t even get that this is a problem. They will need to demonstrate that they are using good judgment when communicating by electronic means. This means you will be checking their texts and social media accounts on a regular basis (daily) until you are convinced they have enough sense to not display private, sexual matters across the electronic stratosphere. Make them text and email like a prude (i.e., no bad language and no references to impolite behavior including sex). They should be able to go for a significant period of time (e.g., 2-4 weeks) without using bad language before you decrease your supervision. There is this really excellent book on parenting teens that presents a system for your kid to earn unsupervised access to the internet.
Have (another) sex talk. Sexting is a clear indication that your kid has taken a significant step in their sexual interests and development. You need to know what they think and believe about sex. You need to get into the issues of relationships and the role of sexual intimacy in emotional intimacy. You need to address the issue of casual sex. There are lots of resources you can access to prepare yourself for this conversation.
Educate your kid about flirting and sexual innuendo. Young (and old) people have been trying to entice and seduce potential sexual partners since the dawn of creation. But these days seduction has become a hodgepodge of crudity, explicitness and graphic solicitations. Kids often don’t even know how to flirt. Whatever happened to subtlety? In the old days, when no one could talk openly about sex, people had to learn how to talk about sex indirectly. It is fun. It is respectful. It is an important skill for your kid to cultivate. There is a time for directness and putting your cards on the table. But if that is all your kid knows how to do, they end up flopping their cards out and showing their hand to the horror or dismay of their potential partner, society, or, worse, YOU. Sexual seduction is a powerful, important force of nature. It should also be a dance. Your kid needs to learn how to tango in addition to twerking and grinding. Have a talk with your kid about seduction and flirting.
So, yet another new and exciting parenting challenge has arisen from this amazing electronic age. It is easy for kids to thoughtlessly and impulsively create problems for themselves by sexting. However, it is, in many ways, just a version of the challenge teens have always faced: how to deal with their sexual urges, relate to a potential sexual partner and be sexually intimate with another person. Get in there and talk things over with them. It is a bad idea to leave them to figure all this out on their own.