Heart stopping conversations with our kids…..

I’ll preface this story with acknowledging I’m not writing here much lately because my kids have gotten some back lash from my openness and honesty. While I very much want to share our experiences, help others through similar journeys and be a voice of truth, I will not put any of that above my kids safety, happiness or well-being. However, this one issue has been pressing on my heart from some time and after what happened last night I just felt like it was time to share and encourage parents to check in with their kids. Jeff and I were at dinner with clients. And, I just suddenly had a very uneasy feeling that told me I needed to get home and see what was going on with the kids. I came in and checked on Sam first then went to Lexi Kate’s room. She wasn’t crying, she was actually very happy, but I could tell something was going on.

“Mom, ‘Jack’ (name changed to protect the guilty) is telling my friends that he has nude pictures of me. And, he is sending the pictures out saying it’s me.” My. Heart. Stopped. This is a conversation we’ve had many times at our house. My child fully knows the implication of doing these things. One hundred thoughts flooded my head. Keep in mind ‘Jack’ is a casual friend. Not someone she is or has ever “dated”, not even someone she talks to or hangs out with regularly. I was ¾ of the way to ‘Jack’s’ house mentally, weapon in hand ready to kill him. And, I made myself stop and gather for a minute. “Honey, we will handle this. But, first, I need to know: Is there any way possible it is truly pictures of you?” While my child knows where we stand on this issue, she is a very good kid, we have extreme check-in measures in place, and she has given us zero indication that she may be engaged in this behavior; it was important for me to not jump to conclusions. I needed to give her an opportunity to confess if she was truly guilty of sending the pictures. One of the things we’ve talked to our kids about many times, is the fact that we are always a safe place to confess mistakes and ask for help finding a way out. In the event that is what was happening in this moment, I didn’t want to make it hard for her to do that by immediately jumping to conclusions, threatening to kill a kid, and placing the blame somewhere else. I never want to interfere with an opportunity for repentance and healing, no matter what I think my kid may or may not be capable of. “MOM!!! No, it isn’t me. I would never do that! I’m scared Coach is going to find out and I’m going to get kicked off the team.”

Now the question becomes, truly how are we going to deal with this? The “evidence” that this has taken place is not in my possession. And, honestly may be unrecoverable at this point. The pictures and accusations were sent through Snapchat. And, unless the one of the kids took a screenshot or saved in a chat, those have now disappeared into cyber world. The phone that received them isn’t mine, and I have no authority over the child or family that owns that phone to hand it over as evidence. And, to be honest I am not sure I want to. I don’t want to create a ton of drama and get our family or others in a mess that lingers on. The parent of the boy sending these messages isn’t exactly engaged and making great choices by him either. At the end of the day, my responsibility is to protect my child, her image, and her heart.

We talked to the friend that received the messages. Assured her that it wasn’t Lexi Kate. Asked her to stop the communication with ‘Jack’, and even got him to confess that it was a lie. I also reached out to Lexi Kate’s coach, and will probably reach out to the principal in the event the word continues to spread at school, just letting them know we are aware of the situation and we’re handling it as we can. Fortunately for Lexi Kate, she has 2 very distinct birthmarks that would exonerate (or convict as the case may be) her from accusations of sending such pictures.

I tell this story to beg you to be engaged with your kids. Talk to them about what is going on in their lives. Over this summer so much has happened with Lexi Kate’s friend group and it absolutely breaks my heart. I’ve stayed away from commenting about it publicly before now because I don’t want to start drama and parents wondering who is doing it and who isn’t. But, these kids need to know what a big deal it is. On the low side of the problem is the fact that this is slander and/or harassment- spreading rumors and sending pictures saying it’s one person when it is not. Secondly, it is child pornography. This can RUIN. KIDS. LIVES. Let it soak in parents, by your kids receiving and sending nude pictures of middle and high school kids they are guilty of being in possession and distribution of child pornography. That is a serious crime. Worse yet, I am willing to bet you own the phone they use, which means at the end of the day, your name is tied to this, and you are in possession of child pornography. It could cost you your career and ruin your life too. I am not over-exaggerating here. I personally know a child who lost a full ride college scholarship over sending and receiving nude pictures of his girlfriend that became the ex-girlfriend. Her parents prosecuted. Not only did he lose his scholarship, have his acceptance to the university withdrawn, he’s a registered sex offender- he was 18 she was 16. The life of a kid with so much potential is drastically altered forever.

This is not just happening at the high school level. Our middle school kids are engaged in this. I won’t name names, but I could easily name a dozen very good kids that I know are engaged in this behavior on snapchat. I don’t know how it gets started, but I know they get sucked in and wrapped up in it and then feel trapped. It terrifies me to think what high school looks like for them if nude pictures are the norm in middle school. Give your kids an out. One thing I do fairly routinely with my kids is give them a “free pass” day. We’ll spend some time together and I will give them an opportunity to confess something they are doing wrong without consequence. That doesn’t mean we won’t put some measures in place to correct the behavior or protect them from having it happen again. It just means they are safe to tell me in that moment without an explosive reaction, without immediately being grounded for life, and without me shoving their phone so far up their backside they have to vomit for a week to find it on the other end. I also give them a safe place to talk to me about what their friends are doing and discuss whether or not I should involve that parent. I will never claim to be a perfect parent, but we have established pretty strict guidelines, a whole lot of freedom, and so far our kids have made good choices. They’ve both been busted and had consequences, and they’ve both come to me to admit they’ve done things they shouldn’t.  It’s all part of the process.

While I’m opening all the eyes to the things your kids may be engaged in, search their rooms. Like every drawer and pair of socks, under the mattress, in the top of the closet for vape pens or puff bars, or Jewels, or whatever the word of the day is. I would say 50% of Lexi Kate’s friends have tried it, and 30% of them are active users. Unfortunately, I know of Sam’s friends who were doing it in the 5th grade. We’re talking kids as young as 10. I do not care what you say about how much safer vaping is than smoking cigarettes or marijuana. It is dangerous, especially for young kids. If nothing else it creates an addictive habit that leads to greater addictions. They want a higher high, they want to get away with more. We just had a family member in rehab for an addiction that started with vaping, that led to marijuana use, that led to more…. The kid is a young teenager. The kid is in a good family that is engaged. It is happening in the church, it is happening in upper middle class families, it is happening with kids of stay at home moms, and super involved dads. No one is exempt from the temptations our kids face today.

I am not going to pretend to have the answers, and I most certainly will not claim to be parenting perfectly. But, we are having very open conversations. My kids know the risks and the consequences. And, my kids know we are a safe place for getting help. I pray daily that my kids won’t ever need help from these problems. But, I also pray that if they are in this mess, that they will get caught before the stakes are too high. I pray that for your kids too. And, if you aren’t comfortable having this conversation with your kids, at the very least let them know that I am an open door. I might scare them a bit with how brutally honest I am, and I will just rip that bandaid off. But, honestly at the end of the day, I think that is what our kids are begging for. I think they want to be caught, I think they want the discipline, and I think they want a way out. I know a couple of Lexi Kate’s friends have been relieved to be caught and want help getting out of the cycle. Be available parents.

I don’t really know how to conclude this story. Just know I’m praying. Know that I want to know. If you have any reason to believe that my kids might possibly be involved in something I would not approve of, let me know. I promise I will not be that parent that shames you and makes you regret coming to me, swearing my kids couldn’t possibly be guilty. I also won’t jump to conclusions and discipline my kid based on a rumor. But, I will for sure check it out. I’ll make my kids sweat. And, will fix the problem. I’m here to bounce ideas off of for other parents who don’t know how to handle the situation. We’ve got this parents, let’s be engaged and finish raising these kids well.