Sexting Affects Us All

Sad Girl Looking at Cell Phone
Sexting wasn’t an open problem when I was in high school. I got my first iPhone towards the end of my three years there. Phones had terrible cameras if they even had cameras, and sharing things on the internet and over messages was terribly impractical. I’m sure it happened on some level, but not to the extent that it does now.
How young are kids now that have access to an Internet-enabled personal device that has a camera?
While that’s part of the problem, the other part is the youthful naivete around this issue and the disconnect between what parents are aware of and what kids are aware of. Kids and teens do crazy things sometimes, despite parents best intentions. Even adults aren’t immune. Technology is neither good nor bad, however, it amplifies the power of whatever good and bad we deal with daily. That makes the consequences of technology so much weightier. The plain truth is that anything shared on the internet is no longer in your possession. It’s one screenshot or download away from being out of your control.
We can try to educate and intervene. That should happen. It is said that “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” We can’t, however, control everything that someone else does, even if we try. How we respond after they make mistakes is just as important as helping them not to make mistakes. Or have we never needed grace before? Judgment alone brings shame, and shame feels like death – physiologically, emotionally, and spiritually; it feels like death on all levels. Grace doesn’t deny the mistake, it doesn’t minimize the mistake, but it provides a way forward after mistakes and shame. Grace meets shame with reality and transforms it; grace is gritty like that. Grace says, “That was awful. I’m so sorry that happened. I’m here; I love you in spite of that. We know it can’t be undone, so let’s do our best to make things right, to learn, and to move forward – together.” Grace, if you’ll have it, doesn’t leave you alone in the mess you find yourself in.
My heart aches for everyone involved in these cases, on both sides. There are many different reasons someone gets involved in sexting; it’s rarely ever one reason alone. They are left with extraordinarily heavy burdens, and we are too often woefully equipped and prepared to help them through that as their families, mentors, or peers. Physiologically, their minds are still developing; behaviorally, we’re not always assisting with the discipline well; emotionally/spiritually, they carry terrible judgments and weights for so long, and often so alone. The following is an excerpt from the article linked below:

On his social media accounts, anonymous commenters wrote to him that he ruined their lives.

He wrote back: “And my own.”

Can we talk about sexting with the youth in our lives? Do they know the risks and consequences? As the article below mentions, it affects kids even in the sixth grade – they’re not even teenagers yet. Controlling their devices without having an open and ongoing conversation why doesn’t equip them. Their friends have devices. When we’re engaged with their worlds, when we’re available and showing them by word and by action that they can turn to us no matter what they face, then they’re much more likely to work out their thoughts with us, rather than on their own and in their own limits. Boundaries can be necessary for a time to help minimize risk. Boundaries have their place in love, just as long as the boundaries we set don’t shut them out of a relationship with us.

In these cases, professional counseling goes a long way – most of us are not equipped to face these challenges with our youth alone. There is no shame in that, only honesty. If someone you know is suffering beyond your care, bring a counselor along to provide you and them some extra support; they’re not meant to replace you and your role, but to strengthen everyone involved. We’re all in this together.

Sexting isn’t going away anytime soon. May our support for those we love be greater than the pressures they face, and may our connections be ones of strength, security, and grace.

Read the article that inspired this conversation starter – it’s incredibly valuable to be informed on:

The seventh-grader’s sext was meant to impress him. Then he shared it. It nearly destroyed her. (Washington Post)

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