First, do your super-parent best not to overreact. Try not to make him feel like he’s in trouble or that you’re angry — even if you are — because shaming and blaming will only make him less willing to share his experiences or need for information. We recommend taking punishment off the table at this stage for the same reasons. Let him know that curiosity and exploration when it comes to bodies and sex is totally normal, and that he has a right to his feelings and his body.
Because teens’ brains are not yet wired to calculate the future consequences of today’s actions, it’s up to you to let him know what they are. It’s a fact that any picture sent digitally can get out to an unintended audience. No matter how much he likes or trusts the recipient, things can and do happen. People get into arguments. Couples break up. Other people can get a hold of phones. If the image isn’t something he’s OK with peers, teachers and parents seeing, it probably shouldn’t be sent digitally.
Next, how do you address the specific behavior without instilling shame and stigma about his natural interest in sex and relationships? Remember the classic redirect technique that we were told to use with our toddlers? It just might work here, too. Rough commented that sexting for today’s teens is an attempt at connection. Perhaps it’s a clumsy attempt, but if your son had better tools, he might use them. Here’s what you can do:
• Address possible ways for him to spend time with the friend IRL. You could offer to help facilitate a date that you’re comfortable with, like a trip to the movies or the beach.
• Encourage him to spend more face-to-face time with peers in general and to step back from screen usage while doing so.
• Remind him that it’s not OK to be pressured or to pressure anyone to sext, and that any photos of others that he possesses should never be shared with anyone else.
Remember, your goal is to set up your son for a future of healthy relationships, and the best way to do that is through open communication.
You got this!