Several weeks ago, I was presenting a seminar on Sexting and Texting for a group of parents. At the end of the seminar, parents often come up to me with a story that they wouldn't share in a group setting. But in light of the subject of my seminar, a couple approached me with what they felt was an important story to tell. They had recently been notified that their sweet middle school daughter had been promised by an 8th grade boy that if she sent him a picture of her "tits" (his words not mine) it would only be for him. Famous last words right? Of course this headless photo, thank god for that, has now been seen by many. When the girl's parents confiscated their daughter's phone, they started reading the many texts this young teen had been receiving from boys and her friends and sending to boys and her friends. The parents were so mortified with what they read, they couldn't even read the words out loud. Needless to say, this was not an isolated incident. It wasn't more photos they found, but raw, sexual conversations, and promises for "hooking up". This is a wonderful, lovely family, and a lovely teen. Just saying!
Mom of a 14 year old, sweet, lovely girl walks into her daughter's room one evening while she is in the shower. Daughter had left her e-mails open on her computer, and her cell phone on her desk. Mom wasn't even there to snoop, but had just walked into the room to bring in her daughter's laundry. The computer screen was open and her e-mail was on the screen. Who wouldn't have read it? Mom was shocked, reading a discussion between her daughter and her boyfriend regarding their recent foray into new sexual territory. Thinking this was just a cute young puppy love relationship, the kids had been able to be alone in a house unsupervised. Puppy love no more. This young girl and her boyfriend were having intercourse. Mom was horrified, and picked up her daughter's cell phone reading a history of texts that were explicitly sexual. Again, this is a wonderful, lovely family, and a lovely teen. Just saying.
When I suggest to parents that they need to monitor their teen's texts from time to time, I am usually met with tremendous resistance. I hear things like: " it's an invasion of privacy", or " they won't give me the password to their phone," or they would be so mad at me, and think that I didn't trust them." Here is the thing, this isn't about trust, it is about temptation, and education. Younger teen's especially have no clue what they are doing when they send sexy pictures and text racy language, peppered with promises of sexual favors. They see it all as joke, until something bad happens. Because teens are impulsive, and don't think before they act, they get themselves in the kind of trouble that can have life long implications and consequences. The humiliation of the middle school girl, and the loss of the virginity of this 14 year old. Case in point!
Boys, buoyed by watching extremely explicit porn on their computers, IPADs, and Smartphones have become more brazen then ever pressuring girls for sexy pictures and sexual favors. Girls, wanting to please the boys, get a boyfriend, feel sexually powerful, or to be "popular" either offer or are pressured into providing these pictures and "talking dirty." This is not a one time conversation you have with your teens. Just saying, "you better not be sending pictures and writing "dirty" on your phone, is not going to influence their behavior, when they are caught up in a moment. Thank god both of these parents are now clued into their daughter's world. They get now, that they their kids need to be supervised, and educated. Without supervision, kids are getting themselves into deep guano!
A cell phone, a computer, or any other device is a privilege not an expectation. As such, and as the grown-ups in the house it is your job to make sure they are using them safely. Just like driving a car, where you need to have a grown-up sitting next to them for at least 6 months before you are allowed to drive unsupervised, you need to think of phones and computers the same way. Graduated responsibility until you have confidence that your teen gets the dangers of these devices should not be a choice but a given. Your I get It moment: " I get how important it is for you to communicate with your friends in private, but I also know that kids get caught up in the moment, and at some point you might want or be pressured to send a sexy picture, or text, or ask for a sexy picture, and not know what to do. Sending and receiving this kind of stuff can be dangerous, and can change your life forever. Now at least you can say, I can't, my parent's check my texts and photos so no way!"Let them know that you would rather do this monitoring togethe.
Safety and education, not punishment. You can't help if you don't know!