How do I deal with my son’s sexting?
Q:Last night I found my 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 my son requesting photos of this girl. She asked ‘‘what do you want?’’ and he responded with one word – a body part. My head reeled.
My son 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 email firstname.lastname@example.org with Dear Mary-anne in the subject line. Your anonymity is assured.
Sexting is unwise but try not to overreact.