I’ll admit it’s a bit heavy for first thing in the morning, but my eldest DD ( almost 11) is ramping up her campaign for a mobile phone at the moment, so this kind of thing is on my mind.
Sexting is ‘ the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photographs, primarily between mobile phones’. And according to this article by Channel 4 News, it’s part of everyday life for 13 and 14 year olds up and down the country.
Really? Is sexting really ‘normal’? Normal implies that most kids this age are doing this and if that’s true, it’s very scary.
Apparently, girls are being asked for pictures of their boobs and genitalia ( which they feel they need to have stripped of hair as that’s what the boys that receive these pictures are used to seeing ). Boys are sending unsolicited photos of their own penises to these girls, in an attempt to encourage them to reciprocate with their own photos. These photos are passed from teen to teen, swapped like trading cards and there is plenty of sexual language being used. Language that most of us parents wouldn’t have understood until at least our mid or late teens. Our kids are growing up fast these days.
I knew sexting goes on. It crops up commonly on Mumsnet and other online communities I frequent, usually in the guise of some parent being absolutely horrified when they discover their children in participating in this now supposedly ‘normal’ rite of adolescence. But I didn’t know it was ‘normal’.
I don’t consider myself naive and I do accept that the chances are high that one or more of my children will be targeted by or even participate in this activity. Having three girls and a boy, the odds are kind of stacked against me.
Kids will be kids and teens have always experimented with their burgeoning sexuality. It’s just these days they have smart phones and the internet to assist with their investigations.
So what can we do? Can we do anything? I don’t know, my eldest will be 11 in a week so, thankfully, we have no experience of sexting yet.
DD1 will get a basic phone at the beginning of the summer holidays which may be replaced with some thing a little fancier a year after that. She will not be allowed a FB account until she is 13, and has very little online access so I figure we have a year or two’s breathing space before sexting becomes an issue. My plan is restrict access, supervise access and talk to her about these things.
Not talk, as in telling her whats right or wrong, but just telling her what’s out there. I want to be the one to tell her about sexting and what can happen if it goes wrong, just as I was the one to tell her about sex. I don’t think these are things you want your child to find out about from their peers.
I’ll never forget what happened when I had ‘the talk’ with DD1 about sex. She had used the word sex in conversation, and so I asked her if she knew what it meant. She had a vague idea, but when I filled her in on the specifics, she was horrified. ‘Please tell me you are joking’, were her actual words.
We were in the car, so by the time we got home she had settled down enough to ask me a question that I found truly horrifying. ’Mum, if a boy’s penis gets hard, do you have to let them put it in you?’
My DD is a bright girl, with good social skills, yet she didn’t know the answer to this very straightforward question. I’m just grateful that she felt she could ask me. She now knows that she doesn’t ‘have’ to do anything physical just because some boy asks her to, and I will make sure that she knows this maxim extends to requests via text and any other kind of messaging.
Can we stop our children sexting? The sad answer is probably not.
Preventing access to a mobile phone is only practical until they reach secondary school, but you could probably argue that it’s wise to provide them with only a basic phone with no camera or integral messaging system for as long as possible. After all it’s important to remember that a smart phone is very much a ‘want’ rather than a ‘need’.
But sooner or later most of our children will get their hands on the technology needed to sext, if that’s what they want to do. It’s up to us, the parents and adults in their lives, to persuade them that putting explicit photos of themselves ‘out there’ is unlikely to be a wise life choice, even if ‘everyone else is doing it.’