“Great thoughts by good friend Jim Daly at Focus on the Family.”
It’s the type of story that makes parents shudder:
Students exchanging nude photos on their phones.
Members of the Cañon City High School football team here in Colorado allegedly exchanged and collected hundreds of nude photographs of more than 100 students. Some of the students photographed were in middle school. And it seems all of this was part of a competition where points were assigned per picture.
As a colleague remarked, if this type of scandal is occurring in a small town like Cañon City, you know it’s happening all over America. In fact, experts are warning the practice of sexting, or sending sexually explicit content and photographs via smartphones, is becoming commonplace. One psychologist called it “the new flirting.”
As I’ve written before, when it comes to sexting, some boys who engage in the practice don’t even realize they’re being hostile or demeaning.
To me, it’s pretty evident the over-sexualization of our culture continues to bear its ugly fruit. We’re seeing it here at Focus – not a week goes by that our counselors and family help specialists don’t hear from numerous people who are hurting because of sexual sin.
Young people are especially vulnerable to the hookup culture and casual view of sex. Many kids have been exposed to pornography from a very early age. They never learned what is good, healthy and God-ordained, so they’re trying to navigate their sexuality without a map.
What’s a parent to do to prevent their children from sexting and adopting an unhealthy view toward sex in general? Our counselors recommend four things:
1. Provide children and teens with clear boundaries around technology use.
The culture will tell you it’s no big deal for a teen to have full access to a smartphone, or that 14-year-olds need “privacy” from their parents.
I beg to differ.
A smartphone is a virtual “loaded weapon” to a young person brimming with curiosity and hormones, and struggling against peer pressure. Think of sexting as today’s “stranger danger.”
During the teenage years, a child is less capable of long-term thinking, so they have less of a “braking system” when excitement and arousal occurs. As one of our counselors explains, that rush causes a surge of dopamine, a neurotransmitter, in the brain that in turn causes the child to get “hooked” on sexting and pursue further risks in this area.
Parents can help their children avoid this chain reaction by limiting and filtering their children’s access to smartphones and the Internet. For example, you can get your child a “dumb phone” – a phone that does nothing more than send and receive calls. You can require a phone to stay in your room overnight so you can review all the content daily and also help your teen avoid the temptation of texts in the wee hours of the morning. Some companies offer parental controls that help moms and dads limit their teen’s texting and monitor their phone use.
2. Stay up-to-date with trends.
One way the students in Cañon City High School hid their sexually explicit – and potentially criminal – images from their parents and teachers was by using secret “photo vault” apps. Some of these apps “are designed to disguise their true function,” according to news reports. “One app looks and works like a regular calculator, but enter the correct password and a cache of hidden photos and videos appear.” The good news is some smartphone family plans have settings that allow parents to review every app a child downloads.
Another way kids hide their online actions from parents is through the use of Internet acronyms. While we know “LOL” means “laughing out loud,” most moms and dads don’t realize “GNOC” means “get naked on camera” or “PIR” means “parent in room.”
3. Be the one who teaches your kids about sex.
Protecting your child from the dangers of technology is important, but the best inoculation parents can provide their children is a solid Christian worldview when it comes to sex and sexuality. Beyond simply communicating an abstinence message or one that emphasizes averting eyes, give your children the gift of a whole-person view of sexuality that includes the body, mind and spirit.
Teach them spiritual truths that will help them know both what to think and how to think about sexuality. Help them understand the beauty of God’s plan, from each of us being created in His image, to the wonder and uniqueness of male and female. We want them to be able to see the incredible purpose of marriage and how it reflects Christ and the Church.
All of us struggle with stewarding our sexuality appropriately. That’s why, when talking about these matters, parents would be wise to couch the lessons in the Gospel message. Remind your child there is forgiveness in Christ for all of us who have fallen short of the mark, including those who have sinned sexually. The Bible is full of redeemed sexual sinners, like the woman at the well, the woman caught in the act of adultery, and the members of the church in Corinth.
4. Teach your child how to reason and think.
Don’t just teach your child about sexuality, ask questions that get him or her to think and apply their own mental reasoning and brakes. Beyond just handing them the answers and telling them to follow the rules, use current events in the news as opportunities to ask questions and help them think through the consequences of their choices.
This job of educating and teaching kids how to think should be part of an ongoing conversation you will have with your children. And if you want to learn more about sexting and its impact on our kids and their brains, read, “Sexting: Why Parents Should Care and What They Should Do About It,” from one of our counselors.