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.