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Dear Robin: How do I deal with my sexting son?

Friday, August 29, 2014

 

Don't Send It

photo credits : Sadie Hernandez under a CC BY 2.0

What's your problem? Write to Robin at [email protected].

Dear Robin,

My son "Jack" is barely 12 years old and has a smartphone. Last week he left it on the counter when he went in the bathroom and I snooped.  I had been concerned at how much time he was spending on the phone and apparently for good reason.  I was shocked to see he had been exchanging some very inappropriate messages (not photos, thank goodness) with several girls in his class. I immediately confiscated his phone but am not sure how to handle this. I think he should see a counselor and that we should tell the parents of the girls what is going on. My husband objects and thinks we should just take away his phone until he is much older.

As a mom, I would want to be told. What do you think? 

Signed,
D.L.


Dear D.L.,

Your son has been a naughty boy, not only for the sexting but also because he's doing it with multiple girls. Where's the loyalty these days?

Smartphones are truly the bane of our society and when the history is written about the downfall of civilization, the invention of the smartphone will be Chapter 1. Chapter 2 will be the entire Kardashian family and the demise of the Twinkie.

Remember that nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach when you were young and you finally worked up the nerve to pass a note or make a phone call to someone you had a crush on? That's ancient history: Now kids are sexting and texting and photographing themselves ad nauseam. Come to think of it, so are the grownups.

While I understand your dismay, I think your desire to take your son to counseling for what amounts to normal naughty behavior these days is an overreaction that fails to acknowledge the paradigm shift that has occurred since your adolescence. Whether we like it or not, sexting is now the thing, and I don't think your son needs therapy to discuss why he's hot for Sally. And Becky. And Anna. And Brooke.

However, I do understand your struggle over whether to alert the other parents to what amounts to inappropriate behavior at such a young age. While I may have said sexting is the norm, that doesn't mean it's OK, and my hope is that with enough parental involvement we can all help to turn things around before they get much worse, although I fear the horse may be out of the barn at this point.

Call the parents and tell them your son and their daughters have been exchanging an inordinate amount of messages lately and you are concerned. I would not tell them exactly what was in the messages unless there is something you are really concerned about, such as "OMG, I'm PG!"  Ask the other parents to monitor phone usage and report back with disturbing content.

Sooner or later you will have to give your son his phone back, but before you do that I would have a very serious conversation in which you explain the following to him:

1. Anything he texts on his phone can and will be shared with people beyond the recipient, which can be humiliating and hurtful to not just him but others;
2. Dads of daughters have been known to react very negatively when they see their daughter being pursued sexually and they often will discount their daughter's role in the dance (in other words, this could be dangerous for your son).
3. Depending on your school's rules, some of these messages could be deemed harassing and result in serious repercussions for your son; and
4. Tell him you will now be installing an app on his phone that forwards to you all texts messages he receives and sends.  Then let me know if you find such an app, because we could sure use it at my house.

Dear Robin,

Our only child is about to enter her senior year in high school and is doing very well.  She has a 4.0 GPA and has held both volunteer and paying part-time jobs for the past year. We have been discussing different out-of-state schools and planning on college visit trips for over a year.

Recently she began dating a boy who will be attending a Portland college in the fall.  Last week she informed us that she wants to apply to Reed, Lewis and Clark and University of Portland and nowhere else. This has never been her plan, and in fact she has been saying for a long time how excited she is to leave Oregon for school and see more of the world.

This distresses us because we don't want her making a long-term decision based upon a relationship with a boy she's been dating for six months who we do not like at all. He is disrespectful to us and our daughter has changed and become more rebellious and moody since she began seeing him.

Her mom wants us to refuse to pay for college if she stays in Portland, which she thinks will force our daughter to make the right decision. I'm not so sure that's the correct approach.  What do you think?
Signed, 

Doting Dad

Dear Doting Dad,

If your goal is to ensure alienation from your only child during one of the most difficult transitional periods of her life, while at the same time cementing her tenuous bond with a man you do not care for, by all means restrict her college fund to comport with your desires. If you do this just right, you may end up with a grandchild as an added bonus! 

Your daughter sounds like an overachiever experiencing a delayed adolescence and her first efforts at boundary pushing. How you handle this period will be instrumental to how she handles it, because nothing will drive her into the arms of this ne’er-do-well faster than your tightening of the college purse strings.

After all, that would be a very mean-spirited and illogical approach to the "problem," which I'm not even sure is a problem at all. The three colleges she listed are all very good schools and she would be fortunate to attend any of them. Since I assume you haven't always told her the receipt of the college funds is contingent on attending an out-of-state school, to do so now makes you both look weak, ineffectual, reactionary and foundering.

Your daughter has made you proud for years, and I doubt she will undergo a complete personality transplant just because she is dating someone you don't care for. Until she gives you good reason to do otherwise, you must trust in her instincts and keep in mind her good character and decision-making abilities.

You can also take faith in the fact that this relationship will almost certainly be dead in the water by October. Children are fickle, and your daughter's boyfriend will be enjoying the freedom and often wild times associated with the first year in college. I doubt he will remain tethered to a high school senior for long.

My advice is to tell your daughter you understand her desire to remain in Portland but that you would like her to apply to and visit the out-of-state schools in which she has already expressed interest. This way she feels love and support from her parents and she will have a back-up plan when the relationship falters and she wants to get out of Dodge.

Robin Des Camp

Photo Credit to Andrea Doolittle

Former Portland lawyer and current Portland big mouth Robin DesCamp is the Velvet Sledgehammer of Truth, smashing through socially acceptable niceties to tell you how to live your life, and why. She blogs at www.askdescamp.com. Write to her at i[email protected].

 

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