COLUMN: Parents in tough spot protecting kids from sexual messages

Tuesday, December 15, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST

Many of the customs, traditions and values of my family have been handed down by storytelling. And so, we always relate to many issues from that perspective.

An old family story that’s been going around for several generations reminded me the other day of how out of touch some of my relatives would have been with today’s realities.

It seems that when a great-aunt was planning her wedding, her mother decided that the great-aunt’s older sister would accompany the bride and groom on their honeymoon. The mother felt this was necessary to see that the groom stayed in his place. It took many hours of persuasion and several days of tears before other family members were able to change the mother’s mind, and ultimately the bride and groom were able to go on their honeymoon alone. We never learned how the groom behaved, but within less than a year the bride was pregnant and the mother walked around for a long time with an “I told you so” expression on her face.

So, when I read the results of the Associated Press-MTV poll on the subject of ‘sexting,' I thought about how the mothers in my family would have reacted to their daughters sending sexually explicit photos and videos to their boyfriends. According to the poll, this kind of behavior is fairly common among young people with one-third of those questioned admitting participation. But, of course, I suppose many of today’s parents already know by the time their kids are adolescents which direction their children are headed.

I was talking to a young mother the other day who said she is very open when discussing these kinds of matters with her children. She has adopted three children and she is trying hard to keep them on the straight and narrow path. While I can certainly sympathize with her situation, I really couldn’t offer her advice.

If you watch television for any length of time, sex is a favored topic. Advertisements for men suffering from erectile dysfunction seems to be on every channel at all times. Apparently, companies that produce products to correct this problem think that this is more important than cancer, diabetes or heart disease.

It is no secret that television tries to engage the attention of young people, so I suppose that whatever can get young people to think about sex is considered legitimate material to share. So far as I can envision, it is impossible for parents to restrict children’s viewing habits. There is still the cell phone, the Internet, magazines and virtually every venue a child could access would lead them to some kind of sexual information. This is one instance where I can empathize with parents. Unfortunately, things are so out of control in America, I can't imagine there is anything they can do about runaway data.

Kids, of course, don’t realize the harm they can do to themselves by sending these sexually explicit photos to people they believe they can trust. The fact that their nude photographs can be distributed everywhere seems to escape them. The thought that they may show up someday to a job interview and their nude photographs have preceded them simply does not occur to them.

I heartily wish something could be done to ward off this trend because I truly feel many young lives will be ruined by it, but I don’t know anything that can be done. If you are one of those fortunate parents who have a good relationship with your children, you are exceedingly lucky. If you are the primary authority in your household and you insist on maintaining that position in spite of all the criticism, you will ultimately be the real winner. After all, it is your duty to protect your child from these kinds of situations.

I have to admit that most of the parents I talk to are at the mercy of their children. They want their kids to be liked and popular with their classmates regardless of what it takes to make that possible. They simply don’t understand the importance of helping their young people build personal self-esteem so that they will be able to resist peer pressure.

I really don’t know where this is going in the end. A country whose citizens are devoted to sex and money is a scary population. Choosing the less sustainable attributes of the culture is alarming.

Still, it is what it is.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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Ray Shapiro December 15, 2009 | 2:34 p.m.

One organization which addresses this issue:

("Building Life Skills:
The program materials present mini-courses in communication, assertiveness, handling peer pressure, decision-making, good health, and others.

Talking Things Over: Why using Parent – Teen Communication Tools is Effective:

Parents and teens alike express the desire for better communication. The curricula facilitate such dialogue through Parent Grams and Parent/Teen Communicators.
Students take home handouts, which cover that day’s lesson and suggest topics for discussion. Parents are given material to help them discuss their own family values.
*Teen-Aid is a not-for profit organization started in 1981 for the specific purpose of reducing premarital sexual activity and its many consequences. The method believed most valuable was abstinence and risk avoidance education, which stresses character development and connection to parents.")

(Report Comment)
Nathan Stephens December 16, 2009 | 7:51 a.m.

In addition to the 'moral' conversation that various demographics will never agree upon, there is the issue of legality. I have counseled a parent whose son received a 'sext' message and teacher subsequently saw this message. The young man is in the legal fight of his life when he in fact only received the message and never forwarded it anyone. The following reveals a pattern of these occurrences in the United States and the legal consequences.

(Report Comment)

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