Yes, our young kids are sexting. Our teens, our tweens — they are doing it. The straight-laced ones, the loud ones, the wild ones, the shy ones, the my-child-would-never-do-that-because-she-doesn’t-even-know-what-that-is ones are doing it.
I am not trying to be the bearer of bad news here. I want you to be aware. I know what I am talking about. I walked in on my 12-year-old son one Friday night. My no-way-would-he-ever-do-that-because-he-gets-embarrassed-way-too-easily son. He held his phone in a precarious position and looked very suspicious as I entered the room. Then our eyes met, and I am pretty sure we both almost threw up.
In our home, electronics are not allowed behind closed doors (that includes the bathroom.) I watch my kids like a hawk, and in my mind (and theirs), I am very strict. They constantly tell me that I am “way more strict than any other mother out there for sure, Mom.”
I was doing all the right things. I have been having the talks with them, and we are an open family — open enough that my kids come to me with questions and concerns without feeling shameful, but not so open that they are desensitized and think something like sex, objectifying yourself or others, should be taken lightly.
But that night, when my son broke the rules and felt the urge to do something he knows is wrong, I realized I wasn’t doing enough.
I have had really hard and honest talks with my son. I am trying with my whole being to raise a good human, and sometimes I succeed. And sometimes I catch him doing things and saying things that literally crush my soul. I don’t want him to fuck up. I don’t want him to fuck somebody else up by sharing things he shouldn’t in a moment of teenage passion or thrill or whatever. And god help me if he does any of these things with the “everybody else is doing it” excuse.
So on that particular night, I had the hardest conversation yet. He finally opened up and was honest with me…after I calmed down. Because believe you me, when you find your child doing something like that — the child you have bathed, rocked to sleep, and baby-powdered their smooth bottom — you are broken. You freak the fuck out. You cry. You wonder why. You blame yourself.
Then you stand tall and realize you need to be strong for your child, regardless of your emotions at the moment.
So that is what I did, and this is what he told me:
“Mom, everyone does it. Everyone. And when they do it, it gets all around the school. They share the pictures and the texts with each other. Most people don’t even care. A lot of people think it’s funny.”
He is referencing 12- and 13-year-old kids — friends of his who make the honor roll and have enough extracurricular activities to keep them busy. Kids who are smart, polite, hold doors open for me when they come over. Kids who don’t have phones or devices of their own.
It seems to me that some of our kids have become so desensitized, they don’t seem to feel objectified the way they should.
My son then proceeded to tell me about a friend of ours who has a social media account where she talks about things that make her feel “sexy.” When he showed me the pictures and things she was posting, I was floored. I am friends with her mother, very close friends. Her mother always insists that her daughter does not have any social media accounts — that the mother didn’t allow it.
And then he told me about another friend who does not own a phone or any other device but got suspended for downloading porn and watching it on his school laptop, which he brings home every night.
My heart was, and still is, extremely heavy. This stage, this life that our kids are exposed to, literally slapped me in the face. It knocked me out, and I haven’t been able to recover just yet.
Not only did I have a hard talk with my son that night, I had to have a hard talk with a few other parents too. I normally do not get involved in other people’s family affairs, but I knew these parents, and I knew they would want to know about their children’s activity on social media.
I would want to know too, and I hope they would do the same for me.
Our kids are sexting. Maybe not yours, maybe not right now, but I am willing to bet they have been, or will be, exposed to it. How you deal with it is your choice of course (each family dynamic is different). But please, deal with it. Talk to other parents about it, talk to teachers about it, attend seminars. In short, do whatever you have to do to keep your (our) kids safe.
This is hard and uncomfortable for everyone to discuss, but we have to.
Most importantly, keep an open line of communication with your kids. Check in with them, listen, ask questions, and refrain from judgement. They need a safe place. Let that safe place be you.