By / Jul 8

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss Happy the elephant and what the controversy teaches us about personhood. They also discuss developments in a post-Roe America; and how to talk to your kids about sexting. 

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By / Jul 6

Children today encounter an online world unlike anything experienced by prior generations. They are introduced to devices early and often, and families increasingly accept them as a normal fixture of everyday life.  Over 50% of American kids have their own smartphone by age 11, and on average, 13-year-olds now devote more than seven hours a day to non-school-related screen time.

This rapid and widespread adoption of personal devices has changed adolescent life in America in many ways, both positive and negative. While the benefits are widely acknowledged, such as convenience and communication among family members, many of the downsides are not yet fully appreciated, especially by parents. One of the most troubling trends associated with our ubiquitous devices is the increased exposure to inappropriate content and the rapid rise of sexting. Sexting is when people send sexually explicit or revealing pictures or texts.

The statistics on this trend are devastating. Two out of every 3 girls ages 12-18 have been asked to take and share a nude image. One study found that 14% of teens have sent a nude photo or video of themselves, and 24% of teens have admitted to receiving photos. Alarmingly, 1 in 8 teens has said that they have had their photos shared without their consent to others.  Given the growing prevalence of this phenomenon, parents need to address the uncomfortable topic of sexting.  As awkward as the conversation may be, it is preferable that children learn about this issue from their parents, rather than an anonymous stranger online or from their peers. Parents should help their children understand in an age-appropriate way that the power and freedom afforded by these devices must come with the responsibility to use them well. 

Conversations should ideally take place before your child receives his or her first phone in order to guard against the risk that they send a sext, and to prepare them for the possibility that they might receive one. But no matter the situation, parents should talk to their children early and often about such issues. But how do we begin such difficult conversations? 

Sean Clifford, CEO of Canopy, a parental control app that can deter sexting, answers questions below about this dangerous trend. He emphasizes the importance of making wise digital choices and provides advice for parents on how to address the topic of sexting with their children. 

Jill Waggoner: What are digital footprints, and why are they important? 

Sean Clifford: The choices we make online can follow us forever. They exist in the form of digital footprints, which are invisible trails of data that every internet-connected device leaves behind during normal use. Even when a photo, for example, is posted and later deleted, there is no guarantee that it is truly gone for good—some trace of it may be left somewhere. 

In addition, there are numerous ways other individuals can capture a digital image or video without permission, even if it’s only up for a moment. Some apps, like Snapchat, automatically delete content after a certain period of time, providing the false security that whatever is sent is fleeting and will soon disappear. However, even on such apps there are easy ways for others to save the content, such as taking a screenshot or recording the screen from another device.

JW: What are the potential consequences of sending a sext? 

SC: The consequences for sharing inappropriate photos can be significant. What may seem harmless, rebellious, or impermanent, often can result in painful, embarrassing, and unhealthy outcomes. Such consequences include: 

  • The message can be shared beyond the intended recipient. It sadly is not uncommon for such posts to go viral at a school or end up on websites that feature child sexual abuse material (CSAM).
  • Adults, including parents and teachers, could see it, resulting in suspensions, or in some instances, legal trouble. There are cases in which sexts have been prosecuted as the transmission of child pornography.
  • Sexting can damage real-life relationships and reputations, and the psychological harm that results when a sext goes public can be devastating.

JW: Sometimes children do not know where to draw the line when taking or posting pictures of themselves. How can parents guide their children in creating appropriate boundaries for their digital choices? 

SC: We know that digital is forever, so we encourage kids to ask if they would be comfortable sending the photo in question to their parent or teacher or having it posted in a public forum accessible to the whole school. It’s a simple but powerful question: if they aren’t comfortable with a parent seeing an image or video they intend to post or share, they probably shouldn’t send it at all. Most children would be rightfully horrified if their mom or dad saw an inappropriate picture of them. Asking a question like this makes them think twice about the pictures or messages they are willing to send and reinforces that what they do online far outlives the moment. This approach also opens the door for parents to help their kids understand what type of photos are acceptable when it comes to taking pictures of themselves. 

It also can be helpful to listen to the first-hand experiences of teenagers who have had personal images go viral. The stories are heartbreaking and can help illustrate the potential consequences as shared from someone in a similar stage of life. Kids will often respond to parental advice that ‘life is different’ and ‘parents just don’t understand’, and in some cases, they are right! Introducing voices of their peers can help make the case.

JW: As you mentioned, digital choices can affect the future. How should parents approach this in conversation with their children? 

SC: Parents should encourage them to think seriously about the following two questions:

  1. Who do you want to be?
  2. How do you want to be known? 

These questions place an emphasis on the future, rather than the present. As we discussed previously, digital choices stick with us forever, potentially even years after something was posted or sent. Help your child understand that sending or posting pictures might seem harmless now, but it can impact their future and their reputation. Regrettably, the cost of making a mistake today, if captured digitally, is simply higher than it used to be. As much as we may wish this weren’t the case, it is a reality of our new digital age. 

JW: How can parents prepare their children for situations where they are asked to send a sext? 

SC: First, help your children understand that it’s not only acceptable, but a good thing, to say no. Often, kids take part in sexting due to the fear of peer pressure, being judged, or made fun of for abstaining. Frame the request as a form of manipulation, which it is. As any parent of a teen can attest, they hate the idea of being manipulated to act against their own will.

This leads me to my second point, which is preparation. It is vital to proactively prepare your children and equip them with the reasons—and hopefully the confidence—say no when the moment arises. Give them some ideas for how to respond to a text that is asking for inappropriate photos and what they should do if they receive one on their device. For instance, they could respond with, “My parents put an app on my phone that will alert them if I send a photo like that.” Finally, it is important for them to know they should never apologize for not sending a sext. Saying no and standing up for oneself is a decision they can be proud of—now and in the years to come.

Conclusion 

Parenting in our digital age can be frightening. It has always been challenging to help our children protect their purity, but it seems almost impossible to guard their hearts and minds from technology’s pull toward the illicit. Yes, it is important to equip our kids with practical ways to avoid these temptations. But most importantly, as Christians, we must call them to the One who has the power to change their very desires. Jesus alone can give our children new hearts that want to walk in purity and find their satisfaction in him. And ultimately, as we seek to parent well in all the complexities of our society, we entrust them to the God who can lead them in paths of righteousness for the sake of his name (Ps. 23: 3).

By / Dec 1

Editor’s note: In critiquing the film, this article includes some graphic descriptions of the film’s disturbing scenes.

As a filmmaker, I know that filmmaking teams spend a lot of time planning out shots in their storyboards, framing shots on set, selecting and contrasting shots in the editing room, and creating “key art” that promotes the theme and tone of their films. This work is not done on a whim. Most films represent years of effort spanning prep to promotion. The imagery is intentional and highly curated, selected to elicit a strong emotional reaction in viewers. 

The film industry also spends a lot of time discussing the ethics of filmmaking and representation—especially in the documentary world. Those conversations are necessary and valuable to bringing diverse voices and experiences to storytelling.

Reacting to the film’s key art

So it’s with that knowledge and experience that I was dismayed when Netflix launched a promotional campaign for a Sundance-award-winning film called “Cuties.” The film’s logline is: “Eleven-year-old Amy starts to rebel against her conservative family’s traditions when she becomes fascinated with a free-spirited dance crew.” I think “free-spirited” is not even close to an accurate description of this group, but it was the image for the film’s marketing campaign that drew the initial ire. 

Netflix is very intentional about the imagery for its films, changing it frequently and testing to see what attracts viewers to a particular film. But the first promo campaign for “Cuties” drew outraged responses, which Netflix later changed after issuing an apology. This campaign showed images from one of the final scenes of the film—the hyper-sexualized dance contest that the “cuties” were competing in. It is a scene that is supposed to show the negative aspects of sexualizing young girls. But the film’s key art told a different story. 

As the Hollywood Reporter defines it, key art is “the singular, iconographic image that is the foundation upon which a movie’s marketing campaign is built.” Meaning that this image sums up the tone, theme, and message of a movie. That’s why this image provoked so many people even before the film’s Sep. 9 release on Netflix. They understood that the film was being sold on the sexualized imagery of girls.

A campaign to #CancelNetflix immediately followed. The film’s French-Senegalese director, Maïmouna Doucouré, was stunned. She had not received a similar reaction at the Sundance film festival earlier this year (where, it should be noted, her film’s key art was decidedly less sexualized). Instead, her film received the Directing Award in the World Cinema Dramatic competition, a top prize for any director, much less a feature film directorial debut. Writing for The Washington Post, Doucouré said her film was intended to provoke adults to make changes to benefit generations of children to come and that, with this film, she was doing her part as a filmmaker. 

Some people have found certain scenes in my film uncomfortable to watch. But if one really listens to 11-year-old girls, their lives are uncomfortable.

We, as adults, have not given children the tools to grow up healthy in our society. I wanted to open people’s eyes to what’s truly happening in schools and on social media, forcing them to confront images of young girls made up, dressed up and dancing suggestively to imitate their favorite pop icon. I wanted adults to spend 96 minutes seeing the world through the eyes of an 11-year-old girl, as she lives 24 hours a day. These scenes can be hard to watch but are no less true as a result.

Doucouré is even clearer about her intent in a Netflix interview on YouTube about why she made this movie that depicts both Islamic and Western views of women: “We are able to see the oppression of women in other cultures. But my question is, isn’t the objectification of a woman’s body that we often see in our Western culture not another kind of oppression?”

Criticism of the film 

That’s an astute question and one that I agree with. So the question then comes down to how well does she pull off this intent in her film? Is the criticism of her film valid or not? In an October 14th article in Variety, co-CEO Ted Sarandos says no.

Sarandos says the film is “misunderstood” and raised First Amendment concerns about governmental efforts to pressure the company. He made it clear Netflix has no plans to alter the film that is an autobiographical story for director Maïmouna Doucouré.

“The film speaks for itself. It’s a very personal coming of age film, it’s the director’s story and the film has obviously played very well at Sundance without any of this controversy and played in theaters throughout Europe without any of this controversy,” Sarandos says. “It’s a little surprising that in 2020 America we’re having a discussion about censoring storytelling.”

It’s possible to claim that “Cuties” is misunderstood if its critics only responded to the marketing campaign and didn’t watch the film—though the initial marketing campaign was clear and was quickly revised. But it’s also possible that Sarandos and Doucouré misunderstood the critical response. I don’t think it’s about censoring storytelling. I think it’s about responding to the imagery chosen by a director who claims in the Washington Post that she “wanted to make a film in the hope of starting a conversation about the sexualization of children.”

So let’s talk about those scenes. The film starts when 11-year-old Amy (played by Fathia Youssouf, 14, who is luminous in her debut acting role) moves with her family to a new apartment in a worn-out housing project filled with other African Muslim families in Paris. Her father is on a long trip back to Senegal. In a heart-breaking scene (worthy of the directing award), Amy learns that her father has gone there to take a second wife and that her mother feels rejected and powerless to change it. But in a Muslim prayer group, she hears a leader tell the assembled women that though they are precious to Allah, many more women than men will end up in hell: “Where does evil dwell? In the bodies of uncovered women. Therefore, we must strive to preserve our decency, we must obey our husbands, and fear God when we educate our children.”  

In contrast to her family’s culture, Amy sees a group of classic mean girls at school who are popular and accepted, and she yearns to be like them. These are the “Cuties”—a group desperate to win a local dance competition. Though they are mean to her, Amy eventually befriends one of them in her building. As they slowly accept her, they include her in their sexting, porn discussions, and cat-calling encounters with older boys. Craving acceptance, this rowdy clique tries to gain the attention of older boys who, mercifully, turn them down as being too young. 

When Amy steals a phone from a visiting cousin, she now has the tool to see what’s happening online. These social media posts quickly shape her ideas of acceptance and femininity. Watching dance videos on this phone, she practices her moves in secret and eventually convinces the group to accept her because she can dance as they do. However, shaped by what she has seen online, Amy pushes them to dance in even more suggestive ways—and this is where the film begins to undermine its intended message.

Prior to this scene, Doucouré mostly handles the issue of porn and sexting by watching the girls’ reactions to the material, rather than showing the audience what the girls are looking at. It’s still cringe-worthy to hear them talk in a mixture of naivete and smut, but it establishes the sexualized online world of these girls. But now, as Amy joins the dance troupe, the director’s camera turns on the girls with the classic “male gaze” montage of body parts for a two-minute scene that is uncomfortable to watch as the girls fondle each other’s rears and dance in very suggestive ways. Instead of offering a critique about hyper-sexualizing pre-adolescent girls, this scene showcases it. There is no awkwardness of prepubescent girls trying out unfamiliar moves and showing their discomfort in doing so. It’s disturbing to see these young girls look so practiced at something that is supposed to be new for them and that’s a directorial choice.

The same thing happens in a later scene, when the girls set up one of their own phones to record their dance on some steps. In their world, the phone would have been on a wide shot the entire time of this dance. But instead of giving the audience the phone’s point-of-view, the director decided to go for the tight shots once again, creating another unnecessary 90-second montage of sexualized dance moves, with close-ups on the girls’ twerking rears and crotches. It’s not believable that this is how the home-made video was filmed by the girls, so the shot choices here pull the viewer’s head out of the film to wonder why a director making a commentary on sexualizing children is unnecessarily sexualizing children in this scene. 

But as a plot point, this dancing video ends up going viral for Amy, and we see her captivated by all the likes the next day at breakfast. That triumph is ruined when Amy later gets in a brawl with a competing dance squad and ends up exposed in her ratty underwear. Someone makes a video of it, and of course, that goes viral, too. That now jeopardizes the reputation of the Cuties in the upcoming competition. They are seen as little kids wearing little kids’ underwear. As Amy learns this bad news, she is confronted by her cousin who sees that she has stolen his phone. Desperate not to lose her lifeline to popularity, she unsuccessfully attempts to seduce him to get the phone back. When he pushes her away, she bites him, wrestles the phone away, and runs into the bathroom and locks the door. While her cousin pounds on the door, she hastily pulls down her pants, takes a crotch shot of herself, and posts it, before throwing the phone back at her cousin. It’s a shocking move and one that seems out of character for Amy, given her background and her world.

Of course, all of this behavior comes back to her mother, who hysterically confronts her daughter, slapping her and asking her who she has become. The elderly “auntie” intervenes, and the scene abruptly shifts to the two older women sprinkling water on Amy as she stands in her underwear. It is a callback to an earlier scene when the mother tells Amy that water washes away sins. But Amy reacts very oddly, performing a trancelike simulation of sex and orgasm that befuddles the older women—as well as this viewer. This is the most confusing and gratuitous part of the film, especially in a scene that has religious overtones. There are other moments in the film that awkwardly attempt a magical realism, and perhaps this scene is supposed to be in that vein, but it didn’t work. It’s just super disturbing to watch Amy shake, hump, and moan in a sexual pantomime, making me wonder why Doucouré thought this unsettling scene served either the storyline or her activist goals. 

The film culminates in the dance competition that the Cuties have been preparing for, which also takes place on the same day as Amy’s father’s wedding to his second wife. As the girls twerk and pout their way across the stage, the audience does not react positively to their moves. In fact, many look appalled. In the middle of the competition, Amy has a meltdown and leaves the stage. She runs home in her skimpy dance costume to encounter her mother, who is regally outfitted in traditional dress for the wedding. Inexplicably, and in contradiction to the previous scenes, the mother receives her daughter warmly and tells her she doesn’t have to go to her father’s wedding. Then Amy goes outside and ends up jumping rope with other kids. End of film. 

It’s not a logical or satisfying end to the movie because it’s abrupt and all the set-ups for a dramatic third act don’t pay off. These characters don’t act in the ways the audience would expect from prior behavior. For example, Amy is so competitive that she pushes one of the dancers in the river to ensure she has a place on the team at the competition but then she melts down because a few dozen adults stare at her? Her mother doesn’t get angry when her daughter shows up “uncovered” on the day of her humiliation at her husband’s wedding to another woman? These reversals of emotional arcs for these characters are supposed to reveal redemption, but instead it’s just confusing and unrewarding. Her mother is still humiliated by having to deal with a second wife, and the sexualized world of Amy’s peers is unaddressed. At the film’s conclusion, Amy appears to have no healthy option for her future as a young woman. 

Conclusion 

So in the end, the cinematic language of “Cuties” promotes the very thing it is critiquing. Had Doucouré filmed it in a way that didn’t objectify these girls, I think her film would have offered a better commentary and been more widely accepted. In her interviews, Doucouré makes a case for her activism with this film that is not obvious to someone who just watches the film and sees her directing choices. There were too many gratuitous and unnecessarily sexual shots of these young actors to serve that stated goal. Instead, “Cuties” contributes to the problem.

Is the Netflix backlash warranted? It definitely was for the original key art. It’s also a legitimate response to the film because of the problematic scenes described above. But that’s not “censoring storytelling”—no government is enforcing any standard here. That’s simply making a legitimate consumer-driven choice.

But I also think if “Cuties” makes you mad, you should do something more substantial than cancel your Netflix account. A better backlash would be to skip watching “Cuties” and direct that outrage toward truly damaging entities like PornHub that are profiting from actual filmed sexual abuse of minors (and adults) and getting away with it. 

As activist and author Rachael Denhollander tweeted: ‘“Cuties” is bad. The federal government receiving 70 MILLION FILES of child pornography and doing VERY little about it – is worse. Laws that make it impossible to prosecute or sue companies like Pornhub that monetize child rape and simulated rape, is worse. Get involved.” 

By / Dec 2

An adolescent boy came into my office a couple of years ago and said, “I’ve been talking with this girl.” He had a big grin on his face, which opened up the door to many interpretations on my part. He proceeded to say that she had sent him “some pictures,” and his smile continued. He knew what I would say, but told me anyway. He was oozing with excitement, curiosity and arousal.

He had received a sext.

Getting hooked on a text

When people send sexually explicit or revealing pictures or texts, it is called sexting. This young man was “hooked,” which means captivated by or enamored by, dependent or addicted to something or someone. In other words, this teen was now under the influence of this young woman who had sent him pictures of herself. In many ways, it’s similar to being dependent on a drug. He did not know how to handle the sudden onslaught of emotion and arousal in response to what had been sent to him. Sexting presents an opportunity for getting someone “hooked on you,” and it happens more than parents think.

In my experience as a therapist, teens sext for various reasons and trust that the other person will keep the pictures or texts to themselves. They do not think that others will end up seeing the nude pictures or texts. They are thinking short term and not long term. I usually ask them what would happen to the pictures or texts once they broke up. Teens don’t usually think that far ahead because they really don’t feel they need to. They are going for a ride in the emotion of the moment and enjoying it, which is why the teen years can tend to be tumultuous.  

Asking for a sext can be an exciting risk that a teen is willing to take, especially if there is a potentially willing participant on the other end. A person willing to send the photo is most likely confident that the other person will like what they see and want to be with them (hooked).  It opens up the door to sexual fantasizing and, most likely, actual sexual contact at some point. It’s like the old way of sending a note to “test the waters,” but much more sexually overt. It is a quick way to explore curiosities, get someone to think about you more often, and see if the other person is open to continuing sexual fantasies. Usually kids sext to get attention, show off and prove their commitment or interest and to get a person’s attention. Once the picture is sent, however, no one really knows what will happen from there.  Teens, most of the time, do not have a long-term view of life due to an emotional world that requires their immediate attention. This reality, many times, leaves them blind to consequences.  

Taking a dangerous risk

The adolescent brain loves to “toy” with various risks, and adolescence offers plenty of opportunities for risks, which can be both good and bad at the same time. Risk is necessary to “grow up” and pursue life, but it can also be dangerous and destructive. Technological advances have significantly increased the potential risks that can be pursued in society, and mobile devices have stretched the limits for all of us—from learning how to use them to sending explicit photos and texts.  

One very real danger within the world of technology is the dopamine rush that sexual images, sexual communication and sexual encounters provide. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter within our neuro-communication system that helps us anticipate rewards, and it is very actively triggered by sexual behavior. It initiates the process of getting “hooked” and pursuing risk. Sexting can trigger a dopamine surge increasing the “seeking out,” curiosity and goal-directed behaviors that can quickly engulf a person’s social judgment and perception of consequences. This physiological anticipation of rewards can be overwhelming and addictive, but it eventually depletes dopamine and makes it harder to get excited about life—many times, it creates even more “poor decision-making.”

Sexting is a quick and easy way to enter an adult world of sexuality with less inhibition. It provides a novel “excitement” and the potential for immediate gratification. Sexting leads to all sorts of misperceptions and distortions. Parents need to set guidelines with teens regarding the use of mobile devices and talk openly with their teens about sex with the purpose of teaching them how to manage impulsive urges driven by emotions, hormones, and a transition to more adult-like freedoms and stages.  

Practical advice for parents

  1. Remind your teen that you are on their team and want them to successfully transition into adulthood and full freedom.  Many teens and parents don’t know that sending (including forwarding) naked pictures of people under the age of 18 is illegal and can result in criminal prosecution. Remind your teen that this applies even if they are just sending the photo to their boyfriend or girlfriend. It is against the law and is considered distribution of child pornography.
  2. Help your teen identify helpful risks and destructive risks. Make a list together and talk through the different risks and their potentially good and bad consequences.  Discuss the reality that in this tech-saturated world, once the image is sent, it cannot be retrieved. You cannot just change your mind. It is out for people to see, and they do not have control over where the picture lands. Discuss what it would be like if their peers, teachers, the entire school or their parents saw the images. This happens a lot, so they need to be prepared for the possibility of this happening, if they choose to send sexual photos.
  3. Phones and all mobile devices should be “open for review” with the expectation that there is nothing to hide. If there is any defensiveness about the devices being able to be checked at night without an erased history or erased messages, then guilt should be assumed and freedoms are lost. Again, remind your teen that you are on their team and want them to have ultimate freedoms. Sexting can get a person “hooked” resulting in less control of their own life.  
  4. Give teens the opportunity for personal ownership.  What is theirs to own emotionally and what is for other people to own. Many times, teens engage in this behavior because of emotional needs and trying to change or manipulate someone else’s emotions, which usually does not lead to smart decision-making. Discuss the possible pressures to send or receive sexual photos or texts. The potential social costs of sending a nude photo and others seeing the photo far outweigh any pressure they encounter initially from peers to send the picture. Also, the long-term negative impacts of receiving sexual photos or texts also outweigh any positive immediate impact of refusing or immediately deleting a photo.
  5. Develop a ceremony or a celebration for major transitions (i.e., pre-teen to teen and teen to adult). Teens need a ceremony or celebration to help clearly define their transition into adulthood and the responsibilities that are increasingly becoming “theirs,” including their decision-making and their boundaries.
  6. Make sure your home has a lot of openness regarding conversations having to do with sexuality and the foundation to sex: the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control). Adolescence offers plenty of opportunities to grow amazing spiritual fruit. Also, have some discussion regarding self-esteem and self-respect. Talk about their viewpoint regarding sexting. Get to know their beliefs and perceptions.

Parents can visit focusonthefamily.com, pureintimacy.com, and thatsnotcool.com for more information and helpful resources.

By / Oct 28

Parents need to pay close attention to what has been named The Snappening. Amidst rumors of hackers accessing hundreds of thousands of SnapChat images, the creator, Evan Spiegel, is standing by his app, which is supposed to erase photos moments after they are sent, protecting the sender from anyone but the intended recipient viewing them.

It’s a perfect tool for sexters. But consider that 50 percent of the app’ users are 13 to 17, according to USA Today. According to another survey conducted this year, 54 percent in that age group send or receive sexually explicit images or texts.

Whether these images are ever released or not, The Snappening is a perfect prompt for parents to talk to their kids. If your teen is caught sexting, there could be legal ramifications as well as significant reputational and emotional damage. And, science says that a youth involved in sexting is at greater risk of being sexually active and in participating in risky sexual activity.

Talk to your teens

It’s time to talk. But don’t expect the conversation to be easy.

The Snappening is happening on the heels of The Fappening, a leak of hundreds of photos of celebrities and A-listers that did get posted publicly. Among them, Jennifer Lawrence, who defended her nude selfies by saying, “Either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he is going to look at you.” That kind of response is only going to normalize sexting as teens conform to the standard of the world in an effort to desperately control their sexual lives and relationships. Here are a few things you should cover in the conversation.

1. Ask your tween or teen point blank if they have ever sent or received a nude photo or sexually explicit text. The fact is, our kids don’t report this one at the dinner table.  Many of them may feel bullied or victimized but experience insecurity about how to ask for help. Be the parent. Ask the question. And if they say yes, you’ve got to ask them if they’ve had sex or oral sex or anything kind of like it. (Did I mention this wasn’t going to be easy?) Determine the level of risk and seek help accordingly.

2. Talk to them about the idea of consequence and permanence. If they understood these things, they’d be adults. Don’t let them fool you into thinking they are. The prefrontal cortex of their brains, which controls executive function—that is, self control and awareness of risk—isn’t fully developed until they are in their early twenties. If they thought many people would see the photo or there could be legal consequences, they wouldn’t have participated in sexting. The fact is: they didn’t think. It’s your job to help them.

3. Explain that anyone who is caught with a nude photo of a minor on their phone is at risk of uncertain legal consequences that won’t quickly go away. Last week, 30 high school students who were found with sexually explicit photos on their phones in Michigan learned that there aren’t currently laws on the books about sexting. They may be going to court to fight serious felony charges that could land them on the sex offender registry. While laws differ from state to state, we simply don’t have a plan in place to deal with children under the age of 18 who contribute to what is, in fact, child pornography.

4. Discuss the reputational and emotional risk. Jennifer Lawrence emerged rather gracefully as something of a spokesperson for other victims.  Uncertain of how the photos would affect her career, she considered the leak to be “a sex crime” and a “sexual violation.” These are powerful words that reveal the emotional turmoil the twenty-four-year old felt, but Lawrence has a fully developed mind and body and an established career. What kind of impact would it have on a much younger student who is not as confident in their life direction? You won’t have to dig deeply on the Internet to find many stories of teens who commit suicide in similar circumstances.

5. Finally, go back to the basics. Sex is a gift to be shared between a man and wife within the context of marriage. Tell them this often from the age of nine or ten until they are married. Otherwise, the world will tell them quite loudly and quite often. (Case in point: Jennifer Lawrence.)

The Hebrew word for sex in the Old Testament is yada, which means “to know, to be known, to be deeply respected.” You can’t know or be known by the pixels on your screen. God created the act of sex to bring one man and one woman into a mutually exclusive act of intimacy that is fueled with respect and commitment. Sexting is one of the most disrespectful activities that exists and doesn’t protect the exclusive intimacy of sexuality. It is a cheap counterfeit. Don’t let your kids be short-changed.