Kids sexting. Sharing nude or partially nude photos of themselves. And then those pictures going viral.
These are the things that parenting nightmares are made of.
We all would like to tell ourselves that our kids know better than to share explicit photos of themselves or others.
But let’s face it, kids make mistakes. They act impulsively.
We recently chatted with Rochelle Weinstein, author of four novels, including the soon-to-be-released book Somebody’s Daughter.
The book tells the story of the Ross family, a respectable, well-known family on Miami Beach who is faced with the struggle of how to handle a daughter’s digital nightmare. Weinstein shared her research from the book as well as her own insight into how parents can handle this tough topic with their kids.
“I worked very closely with a Elisa D’Amico, who is a co-founder of the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project. She put me in touch with the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, which is an advocacy group that work for victims of revenge porn and cyber sexual harassment. I also worked with Stacey Honowitz, [the Assistant State Attorney of the Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Unit in Florida.]
The statistics are pretty raw. 22 percent of girls and I would say 18 percent of boys have sent semi-nude or nude photos. 11 percent of girls 13 to 16 have been involved with sending and receiving explicit content and I would say that one in ten has been involved with forwarding something that was sexually explicit or sexual in nature…
The laws can’t even catch up with the technology right now. [The laws vary] by state, so you have to figure out what the law is in your particular state. [Even if you send just one image] to one person, if it goes on the internet, it multiplies, so it’s so hard to contain and control.”
It Can Happen to Any Family
As Rochelle explains, in the book, the Ross family “live in a fictitious hotel wedged between the Sagamore and the Delano, if you’re familiar with Miami, and they live on the top floor and they seem to have this pretty charmed, ‘perfect life.’
But as we all know there’s no such thing as perfect and the parents do their best to instill values and morals and kindness in their children. But we all know, raising kids, it’s not easy, and we can do our best and sometimes [kids are] going to stray. So, in this in the book, I bring up sexting.
One of the daughters gets herself trapped in a digital nightmare, which goes viral and the repercussions for this seemingly good family who’s done everything right.
We all try to do everything right and the repercussions for this family, the community, the daughters… What really stood out for me for this book, which I think is really important for parents, is the judging that’s involved.
It could be your child who gets in trouble at school, your child who gets in trouble on the internet, your child who gets dropped in trouble with drugs, and we judge… The truth of the matter is it could happen to any one of us and we’re all just we’re all just doing our best. And we can’t always control what our kids get into.
So that was a really important theme for me to pull through the book, the piece about, can we just all be a little bit nicer to one another? We’re all going through this together. We’re in the trenches together and it just makes a situation so much worse when we judge and we belittle and say, ‘oh that would never happen in my family,’ because it really could.”
Have Realistic Expectations
“I’m not an expert. This is just how I dealt with my children. But I have gone into this parenting thing thinking the worst-case scenario. I have been like ‘okay, they’re going to do this. They’re going to try that. They’re going to do this. They’re going to do that.’ No matter what I say to them.
So what I try to teach my children is moderation, respectability, responsibility, in any situation. My twin boys are going off to college, so whether it’s with consent with women, whether they’re trying a drug for the first time, trying alcohol for the first time. It’s very hard to say or believe, ‘well my kid’s never going to do that.’ I think you have to prepare yourself for the possibility and keep them safe.”
Communication is Key
“I believe in open lines of communication. You know, parents say, ‘well my kid doesn’t listen to me and they feel like I’m bothering them. I don’t care. I will repeat the same thing five thousand times because I know in my heart at some point it’s going to click… They’re going to hear that reel going on in their minds and they’re going to think for one minute, and if I could stop them from doing one thing that’s going to hurt themselves or hurt somebody else, I’m don’t care if I’m being annoying, I’ll keep it up.”
Avoid Judgement and Turn Mistakes into Teachable Moments
“There’s always a teachable moment. I mean, this is the thing with teenagers: this is the time for them to screw up. Once they’re 18, that’s it. You don’t have control, you can’t protect them. They go to jail. Obviously, in a perfect world, we would like them to not screw up at all.
But this is the time for that teachable moment where they need to learn there are going to be consequences and there needs to be something that they extract from it, that they learn and they grow from it…
What concerns me about this generation [is] they do not understand the laws associated with this type of distribution. If you are a minor and somebody has a naked photograph of you and forwards it around to all of their friends, it is considered child pornography.
Period. It is a crime.
Say, for example, your child shows you a picture that was going around the internet. As an adult, you could be charged with the crime. It’s a matter of how far people willing to go. But technically, by the law, you could be charged with a crime, and if convicted you could be you could be labeled a sex offender and have to register as a sex offender for the rest of your life.
Final Thoughts on Kids Sexting
It may not be fun to think about, the idea of your son or daughter sending explicit images that could, potentially, wind up on the internet.
We may like to think they know better, but the truth is that kids make mistakes.
It’s how we, as adults, react to those mistakes, that can make all the difference.
So the big takeaways are:
- Remember, it can happen to any family (including yours)
- Be empathetic and refrain from passing judgment
- Have realistic expectations for your own kids’ behavior
- Maintain open lines of communication
- Turn mistakes into teachable moments
Has this happened to you or someone you know? Is there any other advice you would have for teens or families going through something like this? Let us know in the comments below!