How do I deal with my son’s sex­ting?

The Tribune (NZ) - - YOUR HEALTH -

Q:Last night I foundmy 14-year-old son even more re­luc­tant than usual to turn off his phone and hand it over (which is our usual rule at 10pm).

I was sus­pi­cious so at 7am this morn­ing I read his text mes­sages from last night. He was tex­ting a girl – very flirty, which is nor­mal at this age I guess. But I was shocked to read myson re­quest­ing pho­tos of this girl. She asked ‘‘what do you want?’’ and he re­sponded with one word – a body part. My­head reeled.

Myson goes to an all boys school and has never even been to a movie with a girl. This is a girl who he’s done noth­ing more than say hello to at the lo­cal pool. Ob­vi­ously there’s a lot of clue­less bravado here, but what chills me is that he’s com­mu­ni­cat­ing with girls in a way that’s dis­re­spect­ful and crude. I don’t want him to grow up view­ing women as body parts for him to sum­mons at will!

I need to talk to him about this but I don’t know what to say. If he twigs that I’ve been read­ing his mes­sages he will change his pass­word.

A: Sex­ting is un­wise but fairly com­mon be­hav­iour, so try not to over­re­act.

I think you al­ready know that you’re go­ing to have to chat to your son about this. You could try and avoid let­ting on that you’ve read his texts by a line like: ‘‘I’ve been hear­ing a lot about sex­ting and I thought we could chat about how this can some­times go hor­ri­bly wrong for both par­ties?’’

Or you can just tell him you love him and that you’ve read his texts and that you feel com­pelled to talk to him.

Ei­ther way, ex­plain that by ask­ing for pho­tos he is putting some­one he ob­vi­ously likes in a very vul­ner­a­ble po­si­tion. Tell him you know he’s go­ing to be a de­cent won­der­ful man and he wouldn’t know­ingly do this to a girl, or to any­one.

(If you have the con­ver­sa­tion in a rea­son­ably pub­lic place, and he’s sit­ting in front of a fresh scone, he’ll be less likely to bolt).

Your 14-year-old son will have been think­ing of girls in terms of body parts for a while, and the blunt­ness of this ex­change shows how naive they both are.

They may see this as nor­mal court­ing be­hav­iour, some sort of cur­rency, and she may have felt obliged to of­fer a photo. The girl’s ques­tion ‘‘what do you want’’ is as full of bravado as your son’s re­ply.

The mes­sage you want your son to un­der­stand is that re­la­tion­ships wane and fold but the im­age is sit­ting there sus­cep­ti­ble to be­ing ex­ploited.

Your son could lose his phone, or pass the pic­ture onto his best friend who has no emo­tional at­tach­ment— or maybe no scru­ples.

There isn’t al­ways a prob­lem but when there is, the im­pact on the per­son whose in­ti­mate pic­ture is be­ing passed around can be dev­as­tat­ing.

There’s a very good book called Keep­ing Your Chil­dren Safe On­line by John Par­sons, an ex­pert on the safe and eth­i­cal use of dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy and it has a whole chap­ter on this very sub­ject.

Mary-anne Scott has raised four boys and writ­ten two nov­els for young adults. As one of seven sis­ters, there aren’t many par­ent­ing prob­lems she hasn’t talked over. To send her a ques­tion email­fax­me­ with Dear Mary-anne in the sub­ject line. Your anonymity is as­sured.


Sex­ting is un­wise but try not to over­re­act.

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