I know my kids will sext, probably sooner rather than later, and it’s my job to talk to them about how to do it.
When it comes to sex, my kids are still very innocent. In fact, the day I explained that not all babies are born via C-section, like they were, they howled with laughter as I described a vaginal birth.
“Oh, Mama!” my son exclaimed. “That is so silly!” This is the same kid who thinks girls pee out of their butts no matter how many times I tell him otherwise. So I have a few years before I really need to worry about the birds and the bees.
However, I know one thing already: Sex is just not the same as it was when I was a teen. Yes, the mechanics haven’t changed (at least I don’t think so), but thanks to the internet we live in a porn-saturated culture where women and men and all combinations thereof routinely engage in sexual practices that would have made my 16-year-old self blush like a nun in a brothel. My kids, and yours, will have a very different experience of sex than we did. That’s why I’m planning to meet it head on when it comes to “modern” sexual flirtation like sexting.
My children are digital natives — my son could use a touchscreen before he even knew the alphabet. Both he and my daughter already have the ability to text on their iPods, and often snap photos or share links or GIFs with me, my husband, some pals and other far-flung family members. It’s a short leap from the innocent emoticons of elementary school to the naked selfie.
I’m not alarmist; I’m a realist. When it’s time to talk to my children about sex, we’ll talk about all of it. What it means to give consent, what it means to respect your body and the bodies of your partners, what it means to engage in an intimate act with another person. I’m no Pollyanna, however, and I know my kids will treat some sexual encounters casually.
When it comes to taking and sharing intimate photographs or messages via technology, however, it doesn’t pay to be careless. Just ask Jennifer Lawrence and her pals if she regrets sharing her naked photos in the cloud. I know they’re going to do it, but there are better ways and not-so-smart ways to share these kinds of communications.
The delete button is your friend. You should really trust the person you share these images with. Even if you do trust them, they might betray your trust and you need to be prepared for any consequences that arise from that betrayal. Parents are snoops, someone might find your photographs and confront you about them in an angry way. In some cases, sexting may be considered a crime and you need to know the “rules.”
I hope I’m as sanguine about all of this when it actually starts to happen. I know it’s going to. I just hope I can remember what I’m feeling today — that my kids will be sexual beings and they will make mistakes and that it’s my job to help them navigate that, but not to judge. At least, not too much.