The things we have to talk to our children and teens about these days is intense. I never remember my mom talking to me directly about misogyny, slut shaming, rape or even consent. She definitely didn’t talk to me about sexting because it didn’t exist. I remember my dad adamantly telling me to respect myself and my body and to stand up for myself. Maybe that was the 80’s version of the same thing I’m talking to my girls about. My dad has a black belt in karate and he taught us all how to throw a punch so maybe he was prepping me for the real world, in his own indirect way.
I grew up and knew that I wanted to have a very open dialogue with my children, especially when they hit those difficult, awkward teen years. By the way, all kids are awkward at this age so it’s not just your kid. They all need a little TLC during the teen years when they can sometimes be at their most unlovable. Just remember all of that angst is probably masking insecurity.
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Lately, I’ve had to have some very direct conversations that I never thought I’d have to have. The two I most thought I’d never have to have a direct conversation about are misogyny (it’s not you, it is definitely them) and slut-shaming (it’s never ok to be a part of that problem). Thanks to modern politics and the trickle-down effect, it has had on our community, it’s been necessary to explain to my daughters that it’s never ok for any man to treat you like you are a less valuable human being because of what’s between your legs.
Women are 100% equal to men, as we are all human beings. The only thing that elevates a person’s worth in the world is the way in which they conduct themselves and interact with others. We should be measured by our contributions, not our sex.
Thanks to a prevalent case of moral superiority that seems to permeate the circle they have found themselves surrounded by, I’ve had to jump to the rescue of strangers for making questionable moral choices. At this age, everyone is a critic and the higher the number of kids judging, the worse the criticism. I’ve always told my girls that they should live their own best lives and do good in the world but we don’t judge others because their life choices are between them, their conscience and their God.
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Do I want my daughters to grow up and make questionable moral choices? Of course not, but do I want them to live a full life? Yes. So maybe that means they make some choices that I wouldn’t make or they take chances that I would have discouraged them from making. Will we always see eye to eye? Definitely not. My girls have free will and I wouldn’t change that.
I’m not particularly excited about watching them fail or get hurt and I will always be there to pick up the pieces and kiss the booboos, no matter how old they get, but I can’t live their life for them. This is why we have to have the hard talks. This is why I’ve been talking to my girls about sex, misogyny, and respecting themselves and their bodies since they were toddlers. You have to start these conversations when they are young.
We’re at a particularly uneasy part of childhood; the part where they are not quite children and not quite adults. They are naïve, hearts wide open, full of hormone fluctuations and walking around looking like adults.
Ever wonder why our teens make the choices they do? Something, not so much shocking as unexpected, happened at my daughters’ school recently and I found myself shocked that in this day and age a kid would make this poor choice because I thought all of us were having the same conversations with our kids. I sometimes forget how new the Internet really is. Sexting happened.
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Maybe it’s because I work in social media but my kids have known since before they were in school that the Internet is forever. Anything can be screenshot. Not everyone is who they appear to be online. Don’t measure your worth by how many likes, follows and “friends” you have. It’s all a smoke show. It’s fake and not seated in reality. But above all, it is forever and like the angry ghost of a crazy ex, it can haunt you forever so make good choices kids. Not all parents have this conversation even once with their children.
My girls have both had smartphones with parental controls since they were 9-years-old. We openly monitor their activity. We check their phones. They are only allowed an Instagram and Pinterest account, which they share. The accounts are monitored. Everything they post is monitored. There is no Finsta. I check their DMs. I block people. We’ve not made it taboo but the girls know that any time we could be watching so all I ask is that they respect themselves and not say anything on the Internet that they’d be embarrassed for their grandfathers to see.
Back to this sexting situation. A girl in 8th grade sent explicit unsolicited photos of herself to a boy she liked. He told his mom but not before consulting his friend. He sent the picture to his friend and the friend sent it to a group chat. The mom went to the school to tell on the girl. The police are now involved because this is the distribution of pornography involving a minor. As if this is not horrible enough of a situation, the 8th-grade girls are shunning her and one girl pointed at her in the presence of my daughter and called her a “slut.”
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My daughter shut it down because I’ve taught my girls that we never slut shame. It’s not our business to judge anyone, especially another woman, because of a momentary lapse in judgment or even if someone outright chooses to be promiscuous. I feel bad for this girl. She has to live with this choice and I’m sure that’s not easy. I’m not sure how you recover from something like this in a Catholic school where everything they do is seeping with moral superiority and virtue.
For me, I don’t understand why she chose to do this but maybe her parents never explained that anything you put out into the world digitally lives on forever. Maybe she was just so desperate for the attention that her judgment was clouded. Or maybe she just didn’t fully realize the weight of her actions until after she hit send. Either way, she made a choice and now, unfortunately, it will follow her.
I’d also like to point out that we live in a world where girls feel like they need to share these kinds of photos to capture a guy’s attention. Girls are objectified from very young ages. She’s not the only one who participated in this situation, she may have sent the photos but the boy could have deleted them. He didn’t need to share them with anyone and the kid who shared those private photos with the entire group chat, in my opinion, is the most culpable.
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My girls were shocked by the behavior of the girl who sent the texts, the boys who shared them and the girls who are now doing the shunning. My oldest is feeling disillusioned by her friends. But I explained to her that these are just growing pains and it’s also a good dose of reality and a lesson in consequences.
Like my dad, I am saying to my girls respect yourselves, do good, make good choices and stand up for what you believe. Misogyny and slut shaming may be something our society tolerates but it doesn’t have to be. It starts with individuals choosing to do better, choosing kindness and compassion over judgment and cruelty. As parents, we need to remember that even when our teens don’t want us, they still need us and we need to see past their eye-rolling and exasperation and step in if necessary. They’ll get over it.