Editor's note: The following oped is excerpted from "Feisty & Feminine" (Zondervan, April 12, 2016) by Penny Young Nance.
When my daughter Claire was around eighth or ninth grade, she came home one day in a bad mood. Granted, at that point in her life being moody was not that odd, so I didn’t question her, but when she came to me to talk, I realized something was wrong. Claire told me that a girl one year younger than she, whom I’ll call Jane, had come to her for help. Apparently a boy had asked Jane to send him a naked picture of herself.
Jane is a smart, cute young woman, but insecure. Her parents are divorced, her dad was never around, and her family life has always been unstable. Sadly, on impulse Jane sent this boy the picture he requested. What happened next is typical. The young man, finding this salacious picture too interesting to keep private, shared it with his friends on his sports team. Some of his teammates were horrified, but none of them told an adult. They did, however, let Jane know what they had seen, and others too. Jane was humiliated and reached out to Claire for help. Inside, I was frantic, but outwardly I kept calm. Not only was Jane’s reputation and emotional state in tatters, but the young man had potentially committed a felony by possessing and distributing child porn.
Thank God I took a deep breath and kept my face sympathetic. I asked my daughter a few questions, ending with “May I share this with the proper adults?” She was torn between not wanting to breach a confidence and knowing she was in over her head. Together we prayed for Jane and decided that I should let the school know so they could intervene.
I am in full support of snooping on your kids if you have any reason to believe that they are getting into trouble. It is your job to protect your children while they live under your roof.
I explained to Claire that if adults didn’t get involved, that picture might continue to circulate and haunt Jane forever. I also told her that Jane needs help. She and the young man involved were headed down a dark road that could eventually destroy them.
And so I reached out to the school. All parents involved were contacted, the memory cards of phones were confiscated, the state law regarding child porn was examined, which fortunately allowed the school to decide how to respond, and both children were counseled. The saddest part to me was that Jane eventually switched schools. Despite love, support, and a message of redemption, she just couldn’t get past the event, and she wanted to start over. This grieved me, but even so, I knew that the outcome could have been so much worse. The experience made me more vigilant as a parent and opened my eyes to the fact that this doesn’t just happen to other people’s kids. It’s happening in Christian homes and schools.
There is no way to bubble-wrap our kids and protect them from everything stay informed and sensitized to what our children are up against, so that we can respond well when situations like this arise. We have to be aware of the fact that the violent, hypersexualized world we live in trickles down to affect them as well. As my children began to ask for iPhones and social media, I really had to do some soul searching. I knew from my work that the Internet is the wild, wild West in many ways. It can be like allowing your kids into the best library in the world or the very worst criminal-inhabited alley. This dilemma sometimes makes good parents overcompensate and view modern technology and communication as the enemy. It’s not.
But the Internet is undoubtedly a dangerous place, and there are a lot of roads our kids can take on it that will lead them to dark corners. For instance, according to one national survey of kids aged ten to seventeen, one out of four said he or she had encountered unwanted pornography in the past year, and one out of five had been exposed to unwanted sexual solicitations or approaches. When kids are looking for this stuff, it’s too easy to find. And this is where it starts to get complicated.
How can we expect our kids to develop good discernment when today’s women think it’s perfectly acceptable to lust over the “Fifty Shades of Grey” series? We have to help our kids navigate this territory, and we can only do that by knowing what they are seeing and reading and listening to.
So here is the deal in our house. We don’t have all the answers, obviously, but we’ve created some ground rules that have helped us navigate this tricky territory. Our kids can use cell phones, iPads, and laptops and watch cable, but these devices are not theirs until they buy them. As long as my husband and I pay for them, they belong to all of us. Therefore, we are all accountable to each other. This means that Will and I get to put safeguards in place to protect our kids from inappropriate content or predators, and there are plenty trolling out there. It also means that we all share passwords with each other. My kids have my passwords, and I have theirs. At any point if they want to look at my phone, they have my permission, and I expect to have theirs. Newsflash, Mom and Dad: that might mean you watch what you say in your own texts.
My kids aren’t perfect, and neither am I. It’s okay to help each other.
Let me say this now, though: I am in full support of snooping on your kids if you have any reason to believe that they are getting into trouble. It is your job to protect your children while they live under your roof. The consequences for denying early intervention can have lifelong implications. The stakes are too high to wimp out or worry about temporarily upsetting your kids. They are not your friends yet. This will come later, when they are grown. For now they need a mom and dad. We’ve got to be realistic about the world we live in. Incidents like the one at my daughter’s school aren’t isolated; a national study by the journal Pediatrics in 2014 found that 20 percent of middle-school students have engaged in sexting. It’s not just that our kids are surrounded by messages of violence and promiscuous sexuality; they are falling prey to them.
A recent undercover video by Lila Rose’s Live Action gives us a glimpse of the depth of depravity to which our society has fallen. The video highlights the kind of sexual counseling that our government is paying Planned Parenthood to give our kids: At Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, a counselor tells a client she believes to be fifteen-years- old that it’s okay if her boyfriend chokes, whips, or gags her as long as she has a safety word. She encourages the young woman to do some Internet research on what BDSM involves, suggests she and her boyfriend go to a sex shop to look at different outfits and toys and “get educated together”—it is illegal for a minor to enter a sex shop, by the way—and even goes so far as to tell the fifteen-year- old that she and her boyfriend should watch porn together and then “act it out.”
If this is the kind of sexual advice our kids are receiving, how can we expect them to escape unscathed? Will our daughters learn to value themselves when society doesn’t?
Our children are learning about sexuality and pornography at a very early age, and if something doesn’t change, the long-term effects will be disastrous. As Diane E. Levin and Jean Kilbourne write in their book “So Sexy So Soon,” “boys raised in a sexualized culture often become men who are unsatisfying and sometimes even dangerous partners for women.” Girls exposed to sexual images from a young age, meanwhile, are more prone to three of the most common mental health problems for girls and women: depression, eating disorders, and low self-esteem.
More generally, as Levin and Kilbourne write, the lessons our kids learn at a young age from our oversexualized society “shape their gender identity, sexual attitudes, and values, and their capacity for relationships, for love and connection that they take into adulthood.”24 We are setting our children on a dangerous path, one that will affect them for years to come, if not the rest of their lives.
Excerpted from "Feisty & Feminine" by Penny Young Nance. Copyright 2016 by Penny Young Nance. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.
Penny Young Nance is president and CEO of Concerned Women for America, the nation’s largest women’s public policy organization. She is the author of the forthcoming book "Feisty and Feminine: A Rallying Cry for Conservative Women" (Zondervan 2016).