'Shifting the shame': Local wellness coach advises parents on what to do about their teen’s sexting

"Talk about the tough stuff." (Fizkes/Getty Images)
"Talk about the tough stuff." (Fizkes/Getty Images)

With digital communication taking centre stage during lockdown, you may have become more concerned with your child's life online, and if checking in on what your teen has been up to lately has led to some explicit discoveries, local wellness coach, Kate Rowe, says not to be surprised. 

"If I were a 16-year-old and I had not seen the person I was in a relationship with, I am pretty sure I would be communicating in all the ways available to me... expressing my desire, connecting, and interacting sexually, which in [lockdown] would include sexting and online video calls." 

Shock and discomfort quickly replaced by anger may have been your initial (and understandable) response, but Rowe is urging parents to consider a more nuanced approach. 

"It is so important that parents are having a variety of discussions with their kids about sexuality, healthy sexual expression and boundaries... it is absolutely essential to building connected and communicative relationships with your kids so you are able to talk about some of these tricky situations." 

Because asking for and sharing explicit images of anyone under 18 "even if it is happening between underage children" is illegal in SA, these conversations need to happen. 

 Many stories of shame are woven into our sexual histories' 

Considering the outrage parents expressed about the sex education proposed by the Department of Basic Education in 2019, we know South African parents are not keen on their teens learning about sex, regardless of the circumstances. 

We asked Rowe why discussions around sex, particularly between parents and children, is such a taboo in nearly every culture in SA. 

"Many of us were told that sex is bad, masturbation is unhealthy or dirty, so many stories of shame are woven into our sexual histories. It is these experiences and perceptions which prevent us from talking to our kids... deep in our psyche we have a belief that sex, sexual expression and desire are shameful and wrong." 

Rowe says this belief may not be something we are exactly conscious of, and for parents willing to move through their own discomfort about sex, she suggests self-reflection. 

"Why do many people fumble over the words, penis and vulva or masturbation? Perhaps I can be cheeky here and invite the readers to say any of those words out loud and notice what happens in your body and what thoughts arise when you say those words. This truly is the first step to shifting the shame." 

Also see: PICS | Does this emoji mean my teen is sexting? 

'Looking the other way is no longer an option'

If you find yourself wondering whether educating your child might come across as permitting them to engage in sexual activities, Rowe says "the exact opposite is true". 

"The more informed and empowered kids are the more able they are to make healthy choices." 

It might also help to think about educating your child about sex as just one aspect of a whole, where the end goal is helping them to understand themselves as people. 

"Often we are making choices which are driven by feelings we have not noticed. This generally means we are reacting to situations rather than responding. If we want to be more conscious in our choice-making then we need to be more aware of what we are feeling, otherwise, we run the risk of making the same choices over and over again." 

Rowe urges parents to consider that regardless of whether you choose to begin the dialogue, your naturally curious teen will seek out this information. 

"The truth is, if you are not talking to them about it, someone else is, or they are getting information online or from their friends. Looking the other way is no longer an option. Dig deep, find your courage and talk about the tough stuff." 

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