With all talk relating to sex and body boundaries, it is important that we, the parents, get in early and be the first source of information. With the onset of puberty, some children start getting curious about romantic relationships at this age. You can start by asking them what they think love means, and talk to them about different types of attractions, for example liking and respecting someone, infatuation and love. This is also a good time to share your family’s values on relationships and marriage.
Emphasise that their bodies are private and talk to them about the importance of modesty. Remind them that whatever they choose to share digitally can get shared beyond their control, including private details and photos. Sometimes people may think that they are “in love” and end up doing something which they regret later.
At this age, they look up to cool teens they know of and may want to follow trends to feel cool and older. Acknowledge this desire but assure them they are unique and valuable and can learn to make friends in other ways which do not compromise their privacy.
Raging hormones are aplenty during this time. Flirting over instant messaging services and social platforms could have started. Continue the conversation about digital safety – reminding them to avoid sharing things online which they may regret later. Take advantage of news reports and talk to them about nudes being used to threaten someone, take revenge on an ex-boy/girl friend or even for illegal activities.
Your teen’s experience with nudes may be out of curiosity or even unsolicited. You may want to directly but gently ask if they have come across messages or requests for nude photos. Go over what to do if they are sent inappropriate messages whether from a stranger or acquaintance and work out a plan that they are comfortable with, for example, replying “I’m not comfortable with this and I won’t be replying you any more”, or don’t reply, block the person and talk to a safe adult for more advice.
If your teen receives unsolicited nudes, they may be shocked, feel guilty or traumatised. Help them process it – talk about their emotions and assure them they are not in the wrong. Go on to teach them cyber safety and help them differentiate this behaviour from healthy sexuality and answer any other questions they may have. You are there to help and not to punish or judge them, so be patient, put on a smile and use a gentle tone of voice.
If they have not already asked when they can have a boyfriend/girlfriend, it is a good time to talk about the topic and you can share your family’s beliefs and values on marriage and relationships.
At this stage, many teens start dating or see their friends dating and may wish for romance and to start intimate relationships in their lives. Like sexting, one reason why sending nudes is popularised is that it provides a false sense of intimacy and you can feel wanted without actually being intimate with a person.
Talk to your teens, asking questions like “Do you think it’s real intimacy?”, “Do you think it really can be done without getting emotionally involved?”, “Tell me what you think is fun about this”, “Do you feel like you can say no if your partner/crush asks for a nude?”
Many get into undesired situations because they find it difficult to say “no”. This will be a great opportunity for you to teach your teen how to navigate boundaries and assess relationships. No one should coerce them into doing something they are not comfortable with and if someone takes a threatening or manipulative tone, for instance “If you don’t do this, let’s break up” or “Is this how you show you love me?”, they ought to step back and re-evaluate whether the relationship is safe and built on mutual respect.
Explain to them the science behind sexual highs – endorphins are released during sexual arousal and orgasm, creating a high and a bond between two people. This both makes the interaction desirable and also creates a desire for it to be repeated. Help them understand that due to this physical response, it can be difficult to pull back after sending nudes.
It might also help to tell them that sending nude photographs can be considered pornography and in Singapore, sexual images sent to or solicited from someone under 16 years old can be used in the prosecution of sexual grooming.
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