It’s time to change the way we deal with kids’ on-line sexual behaviors

It’s time to change the way we deal with kids’ on-line sexual behaviors

What Parents Need to Know About Digital Consent

Say you’re out somewhere, at a party or on a date, and someone you’re with leans in for a kiss. They ask ‘May I?”  and  you either consent to it or not. Unless the person forces them self on you, it’s a pretty simple thing. There is nothing permanent about a kiss.

But things  are far from simple online and actually,  there is no sure way to have lasting consent for privacy or discretion when it comes to the exchange of photographs and texts.

This is an issue for parents, because if your child has a cell phone and a bedroom door there’s a pretty good chance that at some point he or she may be tempted to ask for or send a sexually suggestive text or photo. And what happens to that text or photo is entirely out of your child’s control, no matter what the receiver says in order to get it.

Not your child, you say? And not you, for that matter?

Well,  one study  of 870 adults aged 18 – 82 found that 88 percent reported they had shared sexually explicit language or photos. Another study reports that at least 20 percent of high school students said they had sent a naked picture of themselves through text or email, and almost twice that number report having sent sexually suggestive messages.

Every photo carries the possibility of embarrassment, including the trauma of bullying and shaming, and most kids – and a lot of adults – don’t consider the consequences of trust gone wrong and the possibility that those private images could become public – and permanent.

You can’t keep someone from asking your child for a nude selfie or prevent your child from asking for one. But you can help your child understand the risks and make a sensible decision when temptation arises.

What do parents need to know?

  • More than 20% of teens report ever having sent a naked photo of themselves through email or text.
  • Girls are more likely to be asked to send an explicit photo than to do the asking and are much more likely to be bothered by having been asked.
  • Sexting or sending a sexualized image via text message almost always occurs within the context of a dating/intimate relationship.
  • Sexting is more prevalent among sexually active teens. Read one good study here.
  • Teens’ sexual and reproductive systems mature several years before the part of their brain that regulates rational decision making.

 

  • Sexual activity for teens is progressive, from kissing to touching to petting to oral or genital intercourse. By 17, about  75 percent of adolescents have engaged in genital “petting,” or mutual masturbation.
  • Sexting or sharing explicit images and text is becoming a common part of sexual progression; in fact, it is referred to by some as ‘the new third base.’

What can parents communicate to  their children?

  • There is no guarantee that a person won’t distribute suggestive texts or photos, even if he or she promises not to. Someone shouldn’t send a photo that one wouldn’t want his or her family – and potentially everyone else in the world – to see.
  • Sexually safe and healthy people consider the pros and cons of any sexual act before they engage in it, and sharing sexualized  photos  is a sexual act,  and are prepared for it physically, emotionally and socially.
  • Sexually safe and healthy people can discuss each sexual act with their partner before they engage in it to ensure they are both comfortable with taking that step. If a person can’t discuss the sex act, they are not ready to engage it.

Ideally, open conversations and parental support will discourage a teen from asking for or sending explicit materials, but inevitably many will. It is also inevitable that some of these images will be shared further. When this happens, the subject of the photos has two traumas to process – the breach of trust from a former partner and the reactions by the outsiders, including his or her family, who can now see the images.

All too often a female victim is shamed and humiliated by her peers.  Humiliation is defined as the emotion experienced  when your status is lowered in front of others. Psychologically, responses to humiliation were both more negative than to anger, and more intense than to happiness.  Teens are at an especially high risk for a dangerously severe reaction  to humiliation, because of the high value teens place on the perceptions of their peers.  Parents have an important role in changing  social norms  to support — instead of shame —victims.  Parents can model  sympathy or empathy for any  victim of a breach of digital consent and make it  clear to children that shaming victims is not tolerated in your home and you expect them to bring this value to their school and community.

The notion of digital consent is fragile enough to begin with, but it can also vaporize when a real relationship ends, or good feelings turn ugly. Sometimes the relationship itself was an illusion, an excuse to lure a victim into a trap. Predators gradually seduce a victim into online communications, then photos, then nude photos. Images may also be taken without permission; the 12-year-old who finds an explicit photo on his big brother’s phone and shares it with the entire 7th grade class is developmentally incapable of realizing the pain he caused the subject of the photo.

As much as they want to, parents can’t protect their children from the consequences of their bad decisions. But they can recognize the limits of their children’s social and emotional development and guide them toward healthy decisions when their relationships have an online component. And equally important, parents can set the standard that victims of breaches of digital consent are to be always supported and never shamed.

The prevalence of social media has  created many new and daunting  challenges, and parents have a  key role in  educating and supporting their children as they navigate them.

 

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig  began working  with child sexual abuse in 1978, coming into this field  with credentials as a sexuality educator. Through four decades of work in public, non-profit and academic settings,  she  has focused on the need for  accurate and age appropriate information about human sexuality as a protective factor in promoting sexual health and safety and developing resources to help parents be a primary sexuality educator of their children.  She is the author of  The Sex-Wise Parent, and the executive director of The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children

This  post first appeared at https://medium.com/sexual-assault-awareness-month-2019/what-parents-need-to-know-about-digital-consent-12e520bd0a03

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “It’s time to change the way we deal with kids’ on-line sexual behaviors

  • August 4, 2019 at 5:54 pm
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    I have spent a great deal of time emotionally investigating the sense of being sexually violate from childhood spanking. Your explanation of measuring degree of psychological harm from sexual abuse humiliation being more negative than anger and more intense than happiness is correct. It just can’t any worse! Your repeating message highlighting the new research on how extremely harmful hitting a child is important, but the elephant left in the room is many experiences of child spanking occur with forced full or partial nudity and sexual exposure. Sadly our professional mental health community continues to argue that sadomasochism is harmless from one camp while the other announces that compulsive desire to be taken over a parental knee after being disrobed and exposed is actually part of a sexual addiction. In this country we have parents who are also of two camps, those who create this sexual damage ignorantly when they ritually expose and humiliate their child with spanking and sadly those who because of their own sadomasochistic sexual addiction are motivated past disciplinary reasons to spank their children, all hide their gratification, some don’t know how and where they developed this internal hidden emotional desire to humiliate and spank and some do! All are protected by law when they do this to children unless they are foolish enough to produce physical evidence visually of them doing it! I’ve taken psychotherapy, been told to just relax and enjoy it with a consenting adult and not spank children. During therapy I was also engaging in my spanking masochism where I oddly experienced both PTSD memory flashbacks and still had sexual arousal desires from the adult age play role playing I did with my partner for the ritualized spanking acts including the eroticization of the humiliation from exposure! Sadly we allow parenting culture to continue psychologically harming children keeping spanking and ritual exposing children for it, to continue perpetuating a cycle of hidden, legal, sexual abuse within the outer act of spanking as a punishment. On my journey of self discovery of my sexual and emotional wounds I read Dr. Gershen Kaufman’s 1996 book “The Psychology of Shame”, Second Edition, Springer Publishing Company. While I learned many understandings about shame I made a frightening discovery and connection to the damage of sexual abuse. Dr. Kaufman noted in the book that he believed spanking was “mildly” shaming and temporary in nature, yet he detailed a profound lasting harm from sexual abuse. The detail of forced sexual exposure was and is omitted or neglected in most commentary and research on the topic of spanking children. This oversight kept Dr. Kaufman from intellectually making the connection between spanking and sexual abuse of children! It’s a very strange world where organized religion has been exposed for it’s role in child sexual abuse by religious leaders and clergy, yet it continues to use it’s scriptural interpretations of sacred religious documents to encourage parents and indeed political institutions to ignorantly harm children with sexual abuse legally. Do all children suffer sexual addictions and sadomasochistic sexual gratifications from spanking? I don’t believe so, but my experience in the blog world and social media certainly suggests many people have been impacted sexually by childhood spanking that had humiliation of their sexual selves as part of a spanking. We now live in a world where “Fifty Shades of Grey” is considered as normal adult interpersonal and sexual relating, and celebrated in film. Please mental health community it is not enough to just recommend adults privately enjoy their kink with spanking and spanking children. The horse has been out of the barn on that for a long time. That position only helps mental health professionals feel exonerated, it does not help children, enough!

    Reply
  • August 4, 2019 at 7:49 pm
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    Edited version, better content. Replace with first comment sent. I have spent a great deal of time emotionally investigating the sense of being sexually violated from childhood spanking. Your explanation in terms of measuring the degree of psychological harm from sexual humiliation as being more negative than anger, and more intense than happiness, is correct. It just can’t get any worse! In the criminal legal context understood as being raped or attempted rape, with the exception of penetration, all the other traumatically negative emotions of fear and humiliation are the same with forced exposure with spanking a child. Would it reason the psychological harms should be the same? Your repeated communication about the new research on how extremely harmful hitting a child is important, but the hidden “elephant in the room” are the common experiences of most children being spanked, which is forced full or partial nudity and sexual exposure as part of it.
    Sadly our professional mental health community continues to argue that sadomasochism is harmless from one camp, while the other announces that this compulsive desire to be taken over a parental knee after being disrobed and exposed is actually part of a behavioral addiction, in this case a sexual addiction. I can recall during 4th grade school going to the bathroom and after relieving myself, having a strange hidden force overtake my thoughts and compel me a desire to be spanked. I walked into a bathroom toilet stall and pulled down my pants and underwear and laid across its seat. The feeling finally left me after fantasizing about being spanked by a female authority figure. When the feeling passed I was full of both fear of discovery and shame at being powerless to resist this act, and I then went back to my classroom. I can recall in the last years before spanking ended in my home as a punishment being called out by name by my mother, interrogated for some transgression, and then praised for walking down the stairway to her to be punished. While being filled with shame and fear there was an odd submissive loving attraction to her ordering of me and her ritual spanking that followed. What was strange to me in this memory was a sense that she was equally attracted to the activity. At that age I was still ignorant of sexual feelings, and this memory was more like some mutual act of being loved as punishment, almost mutually.
    In this country we have parents who are also of two camps, those who create this sexual damage ignorantly when they ritually expose and humiliate their child with spanking, and sadly those who because of their own sadomasochistic sexual addiction are motivated, past disciplinary reasons, to spank their children. Most will deny their own sadomasochistic feelings, if they have them, as having any connections to the motivations for their choice to spank their child, either before or during the spanking. Any form of parental self- satisfaction or gratification can be completely hidden. Some don’t know how and where they developed this internal hidden emotional desire to humiliate and spank and yet sadly some do! In either case, in denial or not, aware of it or not, these pleasant feelings are all protected by law when they do this to their children, unless they are foolish enough to produce physical evidence visually of exposed children to the public.
    I’ve taken psychotherapy, been told to just relax and enjoy it with a consenting adult and not spank my children. During therapy I was also engaging in my spanking masochism where I oddly experienced both terrifying PTSD memory flashbacks I would awaken to at night or morning and yet I still had sexual arousal desires for what is called age play role playing with my partner. And these ritualized spanking acts included the eroticization of the humiliation from the forced sexual exposure!
    Sadly, we socially still allow parenting culture to continue to psychologically harm children with spanking and within it; it’s often secret denied taboo form of sexual abuse. This form of violence of children continues perpetuating itself through each new human generation of parents that continue to choose spanking as acceptable child punishment. It remains a hidden, unspoken, hotly denied form of sexual abuse, that masquerade’s as simple spanking punishment.

    On my journey of self-discovery of my sexual and emotional wounds, I read Dr. Gershen Kaufman’s 1996 book, “The Psychology of Shame”, Second Edition, by the Springer Publishing Company. While I learned many understandings about shame I made a frightening discovery and connection to the damage of sexual abuse. Dr. Kaufman noted in the book that he believed spanking was “mildly” shaming but only temporary in nature, yet he detailed much profound lasting harm from sexual abuse. Details of the act, within the description of spanking a child that reference this forced sexual exposure, are simultaneously taken for granted as inconsequential, or silently omitted/ neglected in most commentary and research on the topic of spanking children by professionals and parents alike.
    This oversight kept Dr. Kaufman from critically making the connection between parental spanking and sexual abuse of children! I will socially observe many parents who spank their children in such an intimate manner either argue it as beneficial necessary humiliation or no humiliation at all since such exposure had been common and routine in earlier stages of the child’s life.
    It’s a very strange world where organized religion has been exposed and prosecuted for its role in child sexual abuse by religious leaders and clergy, yet it continues to use its scriptural interpretations of sacred religious texts to encourage parents and indeed political institutions to ignorantly harm children with sexual abuse legally. Remember the only legal difference between sexual molestation and rape is physical penetration. Do all children suffer sexual addictions and sadomasochistic sexual gratifications from spanking? No, but my experience in the blog world and social media certainly suggests many people have been impacted with sadomasochistic sexual harm from the experience of sexual humiliation of their sexual selves as part of their spanking.

    We now live in a world where the book and film of “Fifty Shades of Grey” is considered as an example of a normal form of adult interpersonal sexual relating. While I can’t argue all sadomasochism originates from child spanking trauma, the fact that even some of it does should warn society, politicians, parents, and mental health professionals that a ban on all child spanking is necessary. I challenge our mental health community that it is not enough to just recommend adults privately enjoy their kink with spanking and recommend that they not spank their children. The horse has been out of the barn on that approach for a long time. That position only helps mental health professionals feel exonerated; it does not help children, enough! We must inform parents and the general public that BDSM, and its various individual fetishes have origins not always discovered by accident and in either case, future children will be sexually harmed because of it, all the while, implying no reference to human sexuality being affected, when the discussion of child spanking is discussed.
    Behavioral addictions that can be a part of normal human activity with a mutual consenting partner are often considered un-harmful, and are seldom questioned. Our children have been sexual victims of this omission for centuries.

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