A new study from the University of Michigan provides us with some interesting information about sexting from the adult point of view. Some things I find a bit surprising:
- Of the adults surveyed, 44% of adults nationwide believe that sexting is a very serious issue among teens. That’s less than half. So, overall message here is that adults aren’t nearly as concerned about sexting as other issues youth face.
- Parents feel that they are the ones who should deal with the issue (93%) more than the teens themselves (71%), schools (52%), social networking sites (48%), or law enforcement (45%).
While this makes sense — parents feel they should be the ones their children go to, want to be the ones controlling messages about sexting and be the ones a young person reaches out to when something happens — I wonder how realistic this is. Are young people really going to go to mom or dad or other guardian if an incident around sexting happens? Are parents going to bring up the issue proactively? Research says no.
Although it’s been documented that young people whose parents talk to them about sex are less likely to have sex and when they do have sex it’s more likely to be safer sex, it’s also known that fewer than half of parents have a “sex talk” with their youth until after sexual activities take place (i.e., foreplay and/or oral sex). So, parents say the responsibility falls on them, but are they up for the task?
Parents need resources to tackle this issue. But, like talking about sex, the messages about sexting are equally complex and will depend on the values of the parents offering them. Some really basic tips:
- Learn what sexting is, and decide how you feel about it. You can’t have a good conversation about something without thinking about it at least a little bit first. Difficult conversations are made even more difficult without having some base to draw from.
- Don’t wait to talk about how you feel about sexting with your youth. Use media stories or this blog post to ask a youth about sexting in the abstract. Their thoughts about it, whether they know people who do it. Then share your own understandings and beliefs in a sincere and relaxing way. Try not to come across as too harsh in case you and your youth do not see eye to eye on the issue. And if the youth brushes you off, or the conversation goes badly the first time, that’s OK. Find a friend who will console you. Talk it out with a partner. Difficult situations don’t always go right the first time, and such “failures” help you get into the mindset that conversations aren’t one-time moments in a lifetime. Meaningful conversations are revisited and have history and longevity. Try again later. And again (after a period of time). Your young person will know it’s important to you.
- If they come to you in a time of sexting crisis, thank them for trusting you in this situation. Now is not the time to get angry or have “the talk.” This will be the time to offer support, love, and understanding that something happened and your child went to you for help. Feel honored that you have that relationship. Work out solutions with your youth. It’s probably best not to go behind their back on something. You want to decide together how to resolve the issue — whether to deal directly with peers involved, other adults, or even the police. But if you bring the law into the picture, know that there may be legal repercussions, which vary by state. Be careful you don’t inadvertently subject a minor (or young adult) to a potential sex offense charge when other solutions are available.
These three pointers are only meant to generate ideas of what to think about when it comes to discussing sexting with a youth. As a caring adult with young people in your life, you will need to spend time thinking about sexting and other sexuality issues on your own then determine how you think it’s best to approach them.