We Need To Talk About “Sexting”

But I wish we didn’t have to.

Sexting, or sex texting, is an uncomfortable topic for any parent, and if you’ve found explicit texts or photos on your teen’s phone you already know this. Finding the balance between delivering consequences in a healthy way and not losing your temper can be extremely difficult. You can see all the possible outcomes of one explicit photo flash before your eyes, at the same time you may be overwhelmed with disbelief and incredulity that your sweet child was participating in something like this.

I think the more you know as a parent the more ability you will have to avoid a total freak out on your teen, state the consequences clearly and firmly, and find a time to sit down and explain why it’s a really bad idea to participate in sexual texts and photos. And hopefully, you have this talk before your teenager decides to engage in this behavior. Your teenager has a gazillion hormones racing through his/her system, and as we may well remember, it makes thinking well about things other than sex, very difficult. Teens often don’t consider long-term implications or consequences either, they are very “here and now” which is one of their incredible gifts, but also can be damaging in some situations. So remember to love your kid, find compassion for all the changes going on in their bodies and brains and lives, and remember they are figuring a lot of this out as they go.

So here goes. Let’s get educated. If anything in this article is outdated or inaccurate, I would love feedback to that extent! Thank you in advance!

In Washington State if an adult is found with explicit photos of a minor he or she can be charged with sexual misconduct and may have to register as a sex offender.

Washington punishes sexting involving teenagers under its laws against sexual exploitation of children.

Washington’s law against “communication with a minor for immoral purposes” covers sending sexual images of juveniles (people younger than 18) in text messages. Washington law makes no distinction between adults and juveniles who make, send, receive, or possess such images, but penalties differ because teens are tried in juvenile court.

While sexting between juveniles may technically constitute one of the above crimes, the authorities usually handle the offense through the juvenile justice system, not the adult criminal system. Juvenile courts have wider discretion in the kinds of penalties they impose, even when a juvenile is charged with a serious offense.

So this means that if your child’s photo that she sent to her boyfriend found it’s way to a friend of his who is over 18, that person may face some serious charges.

But, Mom, my boyfriend would never send it to anyone else!

Of course she trusts her boyfriend. And although we may see risk there, she won’t. So approach it with, “If you ever break up, and it’s messy, he still has this photo of you.” or “What if he phone got into the wrong hands?” It takes seconds for a photo to go viral either locally or globally.

Remind her that it could be very embarrassing for her should this happen. There is at least one case where a student committed suicide after a sexually explicit photo of her went all over her school.

Also, talk to your teen about how when you aren’t face to face with a person, it is much easier to get caught up in the idea of sexual interactions, text messages and photos, but that it could be sending the wrong message. Once in person, the sender may be expected, or pressured, or even forced into sexual acts that they really aren’t ready for. If that should happen, the fault lies with the offender of force or coercion – always. But your teen may need to consider his or her behavior leading up to increased risk.

Sometimes a teen will believe that they can only get someone to like them if they send sexually explicit material to them. With one client, I asked her to describe her “ideal” boyfriend. She described, among other adjectives, “respectful, kind, funny, treats me right.”  Then I asked her, “And if a guy only likes a girl for the explicit photos she sends…what kind of person is he?” Her response was “a jerk” and “shallow” and “slimy”. So then I asked, “So by sending out these photos, you are inviting a slimy, shallow jerk to be your boyfriend? Is that what you want?” She honestly had not considered this before. I saw the light dawn in  her eyes.

To sum up, make sure your teen understands how fast photos can get around. They may be convinced it will never happen, but the only way to be 100% sure of that is to never send them. NEVER.
It is illegal, and lives can be harmed – even inadvertently – by what seemed like an innocent photo or text message. Your teen deserves respect, towards themselves and from others, and if that is in short supply, talk to your teen about how they are feeling, what they need – or think they need – and above all, don’t humiliate or shame them in the process of the discussion. Compassion, understanding, and even if you decide to take away their access to texting and social media, speak with respect for the person they are. We all make mistakes. Sometimes we make really big ones. It never feels good to have our noses rubbed in it, and even worse for your teen if it’s an embarrassing subject about a naked photo of themselves. Be gentle. With yourself too.


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