Tiffanie Trudeau, LMHC, LPC, CSAT, NCC is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in the State of Florida as well as a Licensed Professional Counselor in the Commonwealth of Virginia and District of Columbia. She earned a Dual Bachelor's of Art degree in Psychology and Criminology and a Master’s of Art degree in Mental Health Counseling. She has advanced training in: Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Sexual Assault Response, Critical Incident Stress Management Debriefing (CISM) and Sexual Addiction Therapy.
In This Episode:
What is “sexting”: Sexting refers to the sending and receiving of sexually charged material that may consist of words, images or both that are intended to sexually arouse and are sent via digital means.
What puts the child / teen at risk for this behavior?
Attention-seeking – separate oneself from peers
Self esteem boost – to feel attractive
Peer pressure – being directly or indirectly coerced
Easy access and perceived privacy
Modeling – celebrities in the media exposed for sexting have gained popularity
“Normal” – digital flirting, displays of affection
Where is this happening?
When we, as adults, think of social media, Facebook may be the first thing to come to mind. However, a 2013 study conducted by Forbes Magazine showed a 16% decrease in teen usage and engagement on FaceBook. Presumably because of the increase in parental and extended family presence. Young people are often using other social media platforms and messager apps such as:
What are the consequences? Legal? Social? Emotional?
Shame – after the text/image is sent, it cannot be retrieved. Personalizing the “bad behavior” as being a “bad person”
Fear – who might see the text/image, what is their opinion of me, my text/image
Anxiety – if I text this, will he/she expect me to “do” what I said (becoming sexually active)
Low self-esteem/poor body image – comparisons with pornographic images or peers
Depression – in the aftermath of discovery if the text/image to shared with others
Rejection – “If I don’t send this text/picture to him/her, someone else will”
Ostracized – “Everybody else is doing this, if I don’t people will think I’m a prude”, “If I send this people will think I’m a ….”
Gossip – sending sexually charged images could suggest the presence of actual sexual activity, which may not be the case
The exchange of image-specific material intended to sexually arouse constitutes pornography, child pornography carrying the harshest of sentences
Receiving, possessing and distributing child pornography can be considered a 3rd degree felony carrying sentences of up to 5 years imprisonment and up to $5,000 fine
Some states have laws specific to sexting that limit harsh penalty and/or separate sexting from child pornography
How can parents respond that will help the child heal, while preserving and / or increases feelings of self-worth?
Awareness - - ignorance is NOT bliss. If your child or teen is over-protective of their phone, it may be because of photos they wish to hide or websites they do not want you to know they have visited
Be present and engaged. Children/teens want to connect and also fear rejection. Being on your phone or preoccupied with occupational or domestic responsibilities can make parents/caregivers seem inaccessible
Listen and be prepared (emotionally and cognitively) for what might be shared. If you ask about your child/teens online behavior, be mindful of your reactions/judgments (avoid saying “what were you thinking”, “I can’t believe you did that”, “you weren’t raised that way”)
Compassion and empathy. The child and teen brain is still developing, and so is their ability to reason, predict future outcomes related to their behavior and manage impulses. They are still learning. As parents and adults, our roles include reminding ourselves that they are not merely little adults.
How can parents educate and encourage their child / teen to make different/safer choices in the future?
Open and regular communication regarding decision-making and safe online behavior (includes sexting and cyber-bullying). Once a message/image is sent it cannot be taken back and privacy cannot be guaranteed once the text/image is received by someone else
Process parental fears, beliefs and biases regarding sexual behavior to reduce reactivity
Practice empathy and approach child/teen with friendly curiosity when risky online sexual behavior is discovered. Being mindful of the difference between punitive consequences and setting boundaries, personal responsibility and encouraging self-monitoring (consider if this text/photo was published in the yearbook, on FaceBook, sent to grandma)
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