A new study published in The Journal of Pediatrics shows that 1 in 4 kids have sexted. What does that mean exactly? 1 in 4 have sent either an explicit text message or sexually explicit picture message.
Frankly, we’re just behind the times. I’ve been speaking to children at various schools in the Los Angeles area since 2009 and from my own experience, when studies years ago were saying the issue wasn’t as pervasive, the numbers of young ladies who’d approach my wife after our presentation and the numbers of young men who were making certain remarks told us otherwise. I’m glad however, that the numbers are out and hope that they will be the impetus for some conversations that need desperately to be had.
Mom, dad, it’s time to have “the conversation.” This isn’t a one time deal. This is an ongoing talk with your little (or not so little anymore) one about their bodies, their curiosities, their infatuations and, ultimately their sexuality. I’ve often told parents that if you’re not having conversations with your children which make you just a bit uncomfortable, you may not be having the right conversations. Men especially, I urge you to sit down with your daughters and give them the cold, hard truth about pubescent boys. The young ladies in our lives need to know what is going on with boys their age and having been “a boy,” there’s no one better to tell them exactly what many of their male peers are thinking as their bodies are developing and their hormones raging. I’m not going to leave you hanging though, I’ll share what some of my conversations with my own daughter looked like to give you a starting place to consider your own plan of attack.
For me, the conversations started around the 6th grade. My daughter developed ahead of her peers, physically, so we had no time to be shy. When many of her friends were shopping for their first training bras, we were buying women’s bras. While many of her friends were buying age-appropriate Halloween costumes, we were relegated to the aisles that contained things older girls could fit. You know the ones? The “Sexy Witches” and “Sexy Police Officers” and anything else under God’s green earth that some costume supplier could slap the word “sexy” in front of. That was just a fact of life in the Armstrong household at that time. Things were happening faster than I wanted but I wanted more than anything to protect my daughter physically and emotionally from the pain life will attempt to throw at her and that was plenty motivation to have some pretty frank talks.
At the end of her 6th grade year, we had a chat about what to expect going into Junior High. We were out having tea together and I told, “Princess, there’s something I want to tell you about next year when you start Junior High. Something about yourself and about boys. You’re going to be very popular, but not for the reasons you probably think. I mean, you’re a very smart girl and, well, you’re a cutie too, but that’s not it.” She smiled. “What do you mean dad?” “Well,” I said, “You know how your cycle came and mom walked you through the changes in mood and all of the things you were physically feeling? Well, boys go through something similar. I mean they don’t have a uterus and cramps and stuff like that but they have this stuff called ‘testosterone’ that is a hormone that spikes all throughout the day in their bodies and it contributes to them have some changes in mood as well!” She leaned in, interested, “Really?” “Yes, really. Another thing that happens is that many of them begin to think about kissing and doing things with girls constantly and sometimes they don’t know how to handle all of that energy. It’s our jobs as moms and dads to help our sons deal with that just like we helped you deal with your changes. The issue is this… you already know that you’ve been growing faster than your friends up top. Well, when I was in school, there was always that ‘one girl’ with large boobs (yes, we used the term boobs- it genuinely amused her and lightened the conversation) and because she had large boobs all the boys always wanted to try to get a ‘free feel.’ She smiled a little uncomfortably now. I went on to tell her what ‘copping a feel’ used to mean and when we got home I showed her, using her mom as an example, how boys would try to hug her to get the most contact out of the hug. Interestingly enough, my wife was even shocked by what I showed them. I showed them how boys were going to walk up to her and do the “underhooks” hug- I don’t know that that’s a thing, it’s just what I call it for lack of a better name. Their arms under your arms, with your arms up around their neck, ensuring full “boob” contact and as much bodily contact as possible. I did tell her that boys are sneaky in that way at that age because everything in their bodies is screaming “I’m horny!!! Meet the need!!!”
I didn’t want to scare her, so I did reassure her that not every boy is like that and just like girls, some boys start earlier than others and some later. My wife and I also demonstrated for her some of the “friendship hugs” so that she had some tools to deal with the advances from her male peers later that year. She’s a fairly strong-willed young lady so I wasn’t afraid that she’d allow boys to hug up on her that she was uncomfortable with but I did tell her to let a teacher and myself and her mother know if anyone was ever a little too persistent with attempting to invade her personal space and “cop a feel.” Now none of this is to say that she wouldn’t ever be the aggressor in any physical contact, or that being a girl meant she wouldn’t have some pretty strong urges herself, and we talked about that too but I wanted to prepare her for what I knew she’d have to deal with from boys.
We also talked about going to the beach and what would be appropriate. That’s something I find that moms and dads often don’t think about. Kids, bikinis, beaches, hanging out, that’s what the summer is for, right? Of course! But there’s something new we as parents didn’t have to deal with and that’s camera phones and social media. Pictures are taken and uploaded to Facebook pages and tweeted and texted, which can lead to some awkward moments later on. Everything may be absolutely innocent but when you have children who are developing and, in some cases, hyper aware of their bodies, it could be damaging for a beach photo to make its way around. Not only that, but another thing girls have to think about when hanging out and taking pics at the beach is that when they’re uploaded, there are whole forums built around finding and sharing these photos. A photo your daughter thought was just cute, in her two piece triangle, means something very different when found and traded around these forums and websites.
Another thing that I was somewhat surprised to learn speaking to teens is how many girls didn’t know that for many boys, getting explicit pictures from girls is a conquest to be shared with friends. They often don’t realize that their pictures become trophies that boys are going to share with at least one other person, if they’re lucky. Worst case, that picture gets passed around to all the fellas and then eventually ends up somewhere in the “public” domain. So I’ve cautioned young ladies against trusting that he said no one else will see the picture. Even if he never intends for anyone else to see it, boys play around a lot and I’d never put it past a friend to be horsing around and take his buddy’s phone and start flicking through the pictures on it.
Our children can’t live in a bubble and they’re going to have to deal with some of these things, but when they’re young- tweens and early teens- I believe it is incumbent upon us to help guide them and protect them so they don’t unwittingly compromise themselves. And I’m here to tell you that as much as we think our children do know, they are still children and to a great degree are very naive. If I had the time and space in this article to tell you about all of the questions I’ve fielded from tweens and teens, it would blow your mind! From boys asking me how they can visit porn sites without infecting their computers, even though I’d just finished teaching them that visiting pornogrpahic websites and looking for porn online is a very easy way to infect theirs and their parents’ computers with viruses, to girls asking me to tell a specific boy at the incoming boys’ assembly that they should just accept them how they are and seeing them fully clothed is good enough they don’t need a bikini picture. That was after I’d just told them how amazing they are and that they didn’t need to trade those kind of pictures in exchange for being like by a boy. It even surprised me the first time I taught and told a room full of high schoolers that people can be recording what they’re doing in front of a web camera and they wouldn’t know it. To which some of the children responded, “but doesn’t someone need your permission to record you?” See what I mean? TV and internet access has sped up our childrens’ development in some areas, but in others still, they are children and all that that means. They are hopeful, vibrant, optimistic, energetic and they are naive. Some even trusting to a fault and that’s why it’s important that we have those conversations with our children early and often.
The good news about this study is that children who sexted showed no long term propensity to be more sexually promiscuous. In addition, it was no indicator that the children were already sexually active or more inclined to be so in the near future. What it did show was that the children were exploring and that sexting was akin to “getting to first base.” So, first base is no longer a kiss. Today, it may be a sexually explicit text or picture. Exploring at an age and stage appropriate time isn’t inherently wrong, but at a young age where those pictures and messages are more prone to wind up in a public forum is definitely something we must be aware of.