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HomeParenting Dilemmas

Been caught sexting

Her teenage son is a great kid. He also sends racy text messages. Is this just a sign of the times, or is he a virtual philanderer? One mom shares her strategy for dealing with sexting.

By Geraldine Jeffers

He rarely leaves the house, and he’s only had one date — but I’m concerned that my 15-year-old is a womanizer (or as he puts it, with a devilish grin, a “playa”). Despite this — or the rumors about “rainbow parties,” kids losing their virginity in middle school, and shows like 16 and Pregnant — I’m not all that worried. Sure, he was recently “dating” eight girls at the same time. But to call this dating is a stretch: These relationships happen entirely via text message. It’s called “sexting.” From the moment he and a girl hook up to the time she (it’s always her) dumps him, they never see each other — except at school and on Facebook.

It all began when he started high school. He became an object of desire for a handful of middle school girls who thought dating a high schooler would raise their social status. They got his cell number and started texting and calling him. He couldn’t believe his luck.

This quickly evolved into dating by text. He sends flirty messages, gets to call someone “baby,” trots out the sexy song lyrics he’s committed to memory, shows off the wit he’s often too shy to use in the presence of an actual girl, and laments how much he wants to see them — though he never makes any effort to do so.

In case you think I'm being duped about what he's up to, I should point out that my son’s a child of this era, which means he shares everything on Facebook and never goes anywhere without asking for a ride. So I know. I drove him to his one and only date. And when he kissed that girl, he snapped a photo of the lip-lock and posted it to Facebook, calling it his first kiss. Then, shortly after asking the world why the worst day ever (the day he got dumped) happened a mere day after the best day ever (his first kiss), the sad poetry started on Facebook. So I think I have a pretty clear picture of what’s going on.

Texting is the medium for today’s teen, just as the phone was for my generation. I doubt anyone can — or should — stop it altogether. I do worry that all this texting is a crutch keeping my son from forming actual romantic connections. But as long as he has friendships and a balanced life, I think it’s more likely providing him with much-needed practice talking to girls. You see, my tall, handsome boy is shy and overthinks everything. He’s comfortable at home and in small groups of close friends, but he clams up in a crowd and around girls. Like any teenage boy who likes girls, he wants to date them, be liked by them, and — someday, if all goes well — touch them.

But I’m not taking the dangers lightly, either. The problem with sexting is that it can get wildly out of control for reasons no teen — certainly not mine — is equipped to handle. (Hell, even celebrities and politicians have proven ill-equipped to manage their would-be private sexts.) According to a 2009 study conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 20 percent of teenagers engage in sexting on a regular basis. And a more recent poll by Wet, a manufacturer of intimacy products, found that almost a quarter of respondents have accidentally sent a sexy text or “sext” to the wrong person.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

05/29/2012:
"so good beautiful&tallented school nevear seen such school which give information of bad thing which makes habit good of child "
04/25/2012:
"I found parental guidance in the article to be sound and openminded. The scathing comments berating her parenting techniques and choices are repulsive. It was like reading a modern day witch trail. "NO CELL PHONE! NO FACEBOOK! that will solve the problem!! WHAT KIND OF PARENT ARE YOU!?" Sure remove all modern forms of technology ...it will ensure those parents don't have to do the work involved with compromise and lessons through experience. This mother is choosing to parent in a" freedom with full disclosure" method and I applaud her for it. She also sounds like she takes the time to get to know her son..and also knows that he and his sexual interests are not seperate subjects until "18 years of age" but rather an evolving process of growth. She probably talks about sex to her son...if that sentence makes you uncomfortable, or if you haven't developed a relationship where your child is comfortable talking to you about sex, then that is the parent that creates an environme! nt for repression, and manipulation because it is a human need. Sex is a human need...not something that starts at 18...or when they are out of your house. It starts developing at puberty and needs helpful management from that point on. Done well, it is a subject that promotes bonding and builds trust. Totalitarian parenting is a wall building form of parenting that creates shame, and seperatism. "
12/8/2011:
"i understand the dangers but isnt it still bad to send inappropriate thing to people not noing if they will post it on face book or send it to the enter world even if it is only sexy text with no pictures????? "
11/28/2011:
"I just caught my son, a 15 year old sexting with some girl in another state. this girl was a previous girl friend. I find absolutely nothing cute or funny about him and this girl sending text's back and forth with: "thrusting, licking, arched back and screaming" I think we get the point. This is not cute, funny, or okay. I did not even have a pager when I was in High School. This needs to be addressed as it is WRONG and not to be done until you are of age. I am not opposed to parents being held accountable for the kids actions. Unfortunatly in my situtation he lives more often with his mom my Ex-wife who may be one of the "its okay and cute" kinds of people. If the kid is a teenager all they really need is the use of a phone not the internet and all the other stuff. What ever happened to the days of someone having to call your house and mom and dad answered the phone... "
10/6/2011:
"Oh, I just read page 2, and I realize it is sexting. The other part of my comment stands. What is wrong with this site and with this author?? "
10/6/2011:
"Agree w/other commenters. It doesn't sound like the author's son is actually "sexting." If he is, it's a serious matter, not appropriate behavior for a teen! I am shocked that GreatSchools has published this article without editorial comment!! "
08/17/2011:
"You are extremely naive. Sexting is when people send racy messages back and forth that are flirtatious, use 'dirty talk' and quite often include photos of thier sexual parts and sexual activities. I do not think this is charming or endearing behavior for any teenager. "
08/17/2011:
"This is the worst article about parenting ever. What does this parent think she teaches her son?!: how to become a porn star or a healthy man who should be able to communicate with a girl his age no matter how shy he is. why is he shy? There is always a reason for it. His parents should work on that issue, not allowing him to hide behind a stupid cell phone and "date" 8 middle schoolers at the same time. What kind of attitude is that?! What happened going to the movies in a group of friends and interacting with other human beings in a healthy way not developing skills of a man who thinks girls are toys meant to be used for his training. Disgusting parenting! And we criticize muslims for not respecting women. How about America? "
08/17/2011:
"This is obviously an emotional and dangerous issue. I think perhaps the misunderstanding comes from not knowing what this boy is texting- his mother says he is "flirting". If he's just saying he likes a girl or other complimentary messages, that's not sexting and there's nothing wrong with it. If he's being explicit then it's not a cute way for him to get used to interacting with girls, it's a way to hide behind a screen and be inappropriate. I attended a very good seminar that pointed out no matter what you do you cannot delete technology from kids' lives, and the best thing you can do it let them use is and monitor very closely. If you let them loose on the world without an experience and making a few mistakes when you can correct them (and it's not on a permanent record) that's far better than a suicide or a prison sentence as adults, simply because they had no idea of any of it because their parents denied them a phone and a facebook. We can't live in pioneer days ! so you need to help your child through it, like it or not. With love, and close supervision. "
08/17/2011:
"I had a problem with my step son sexting. His girlfriend got him to do it after she sent pictures of her private parts. We had him do research on the laws of sexting and write a paper (one page) on sexting. Then we sat down with him and explained why he was not allowed to do it. He ended up breaking up with the girl because she wanted him to continue sexting. We do random cell phone check and found the new girlfriend was sending pictures of herself taking bubble baths. We sent a text from the son's phone to the girl and told her to stop or we will share the pictures with her daddy. The girl freaked but she got the point. We took the phone away from the son for a week (cell phone is a priviledge, not a right) and had AT&T block all pictures from being sent and received. I told him that he can send and receive pictures once he turned 18 and got a phone in his own name. I'm not risking my job for any teenager in my house who wants to sext. "
08/9/2011:
"What's so unfortunate about this article is that it is parents just like this author who are ALWAYS on the news after the fact (the arrest/sentencing/tragedy/etc) saying "they thought it was harmless" and "didn't know it would lead to this"! Just where do you think thoughts of a sexual nature lead? Talk about about fuel for the fire. How about parent actually PARENTING… and stop being so concerened whether their child will actually like them. News flash… parenting is erecting and enforcing boundaries. But rest assured if this author won't, eventually the authorities will and they won't be as sympathetic! "
08/9/2011:
"What ever happened to taking a cell phone away and deleting Facebook accounts? I've done both and eliminated the problem. I'd also like to know what the author would think of her child were she a daughter instead of a son. Something tells me she wouldn't try to make it sound quite so endearing. "
08/9/2011:
"I know this problem started long before texting! Like it or not the truth is that all of America’s woes started in June of 1963 when pray and the bible was banished from the public schools. At this very point is when the hoards of hell came pouring into this blessed nation. Before this time was when most American's were sound minded and moral. You take God out of the eqasion and you get a vacuum that is filled up with evil. Therefore, sound minded people became less and less. America now has warped minded parents that think this article is a solution in how to deal with teens with this type of behavior! God help us in Jesus name! "
08/8/2011:
"I am amazed at the stupidity of this mother. Her son, and his lack of respect for the young ladies he hopes "if all goes well" to touch, is sadly condoned by his own mother. She appears to even be proud of her son's sexting habits. I would guide my daughter to stay clear of any boy who would have such an ignorant mother who would encourage her son to use young girls to get some sort of sexual thrill over the phone. Young ladies should not be treated in the manner in which this women is encouraging her son to do. Her son in no gentleman! "
08/8/2011:
"good article and thanks for including the references, very informative, thanks. "
08/8/2011:
"I don't understand the number of kids allowed to have a cell phone these days. If they aren't paying the bill and/or aren't using the phone wisely, they shouldn't have one. The phone would be GONE and the computer locked down immediately in the case of sexting. Kids are becoming socially backwards these days because of all this lack of real life interaction. The writer is not doing her son any favors by allowing or turning a blind eye to this kind of behavior. Too many grown men in the dating world text instead of talk these days and have zero concept of what actual courtship is about. Great, now we're gonna have one more to add to the fold. "
08/8/2011:
"I am surprised by this article. The mother states that she realizes how dangerous sexting can be, even mentions bullying, criminal prosecution, etc, but acts likes it's ok for kids to do it because it's "popular.". I'm sorry, but you are condoning this poor behavior for your son just because "everyone else is doing it". Don't you remember the saying growing up.."just because your friend jumped off a bridge....". When are parents going to start being parents instead of "friends" to their children. My co-worker let's her 9 year old have a facebook account because "all of her friends have one.". I'm sorry but legally you need to be 13 for an account. If more parents weren't afraid to say no to there children and enforce rules and teach children the difference between right and wrong, then maybe we wouldn't have the pressures that 13 year olds think it's ok to send explicit photos of themselves to "be liked". It's time to teach children they can't have everything they want jus! t because they want it or feel entitled. A liitle respect and discipline will go a long way when they grow up and enter the real world. "
08/8/2011:
"Is this mother kidding? She sounds like a pure idiot and if this web site supports something like this, they are no better and is not the site I want to be associated with. Are you people really stupid or what? Eliminate texting on his phone, along with voice mail and ban him from the computer. It is about time you parents out there start taking responsibility for your children and how you act around them. Not it is not acceptable in this day and age no matter what your perverted twisted mind is telling you. Wake up you people and start managing your children like an adult and the parent you should really be. Good God people are you guys totally fixed on drugs or are you just that stupid. "
08/8/2011:
"First, I was stunned at the email's title, "Teens and Sexting: SHOULD parents put a stop to it?"(caps added). Really? You have to ask "should"? It's child porn for one thing so, at a min. there are legal issues for your kid. Even more though is the porn habit this will lead to that will affect their whole life. And what message does this send re: why we value women/girls? Second, this parent isn't worried that her son sees himself as a "playa" and is dismissive re: his 'text dating' 8 different girls? Isn't this establishing that it's OK to be leading on various girls @ the same time? Maybe all these girls know he's doing this, but I suspect it involves some deception and dishonesty about his intentions. Isn't this "mistreating the girls?" She's right that these years are "practice." For what kind of relationship is he practicing exactly? "
08/8/2011:
"how to handle?? STOP giving the teens unlimited texting! my kids about to start driving andIJUST gave her a cell phone with NO texting added. She can, however it's meant to be reserved for emergency use.. this way it forces them to interact face to face or actually use their voices to speak to one another. it's too easy to hide behind a screen and letters.... "
08/8/2011:
"Wow, I'm impressed! This seems very level-headed and thoughtful, and helped me think about how to handle these things when my kindergartener is a teenager. Thanks. "
08/8/2011:
"I think this problem began long before texting came out on the scene I think the provocative influence first began with the TV I think people want to lay blame on new technology and I don't think that is fair especially when the problem existed before using the Cell Phone & the internet is just another avenue for this type of behavior "
08/8/2011:
"I very much appreciation the sane and nonprudish perspective of this article. Yes, sexting is fun for teens, yes it's harmless until it lapses into bullying or other disrespect, and yes most of the dangers have to with it clashing with the sex-negative authority structure (well, that and possible humiliation by peers). As a parent, I feel like I've been given a bit of permission here not to freak out but to be involved. I like that. Thanks! "
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