Becky gets home from an awful day at school. She hates everything about her day. Her teachers are hard and give her tons of homework. She feels left out and has very few friends. She wants to get attention from boys, but doesn’t like her body and is convinced that nobody else does either. When she arrives home, her mother instantly starts nagging her about prepping for her SAT’s. Basically, life sucks.
Becky goes online to flash chat. She meets Joe…
B – OMG, school totally sucked. Sometimes I hate my life.
J – I know what you mean. If you were here, I’d give you a hug.
B – Aaaah, you are so sweet. Thx. That would be so great.
J – Hey, it’s what I’m here for. Hugs, foot rubs, whatever you need babe.
Becky feels validated for the first time all day, perhaps for the first time in days, weeks or even longer. Joe is “so sweet” and she can tell he’s just such a nice guy. Their conversation continues…
B – You would really rub my feet? Eeew…
J – Of course, I would. Then I would kiss you and tell you how beautiful you are.
B – **Blushing**
J – Seriously, I think you’re so hot
B – Thanks, I think you’re hot too.
J – Do you know what I’d do if you were here now?
B – Ummm… What?
In a matter of moments, Becky is sucked in and the sexting begins. The situation seems so safe. Becky doesn’t know Joe, has no idea who he is, where he is, and wouldn’t recognize him if she walked by him on the street. She tells him things she would never say to someone she actually knew. She loves the thrill of the attention he is giving her. He says things that make her a bit uncomfortable, but it’s such a rush. She is doing this from the safety of her bedroom/classroom/living room. What could possibly happen? How could this possibly hurt anything? For the first time in a long time, Becky is no longer alone. She quickly discovers a whole network of friends who are always there for her and they are merely a text away.
For Becky and the hundreds of thousands of teens who struggle with insecurity or low self-esteem, sexting has become the escape and release from feeling like they don’t belong. Combine this with a lack of impulse control, thirst for adrenaline and risk taking and you have the perfect storm. Often things start out innocently enough. However, the need for an emotional connection, albeit artificial, and the rush of excitement cause most teens to bypass any alarm bells ringing in their head when they first encounter sexting. They get sucked into a world they may initially be uncomfortable with, but the rush of emotion and excitement is so overwhelming and powerful that they surge ahead with a false sense of safety.
Before too long, the awkward, shy, insecure, lonely, self-conscious teen feels loved, desired, pursued, and needed. They feel important and powerful. They love the intensity and attention they are getting through sexting. All the while still feeling as though they are “doing nothing wrong.” They create excuses such as “I’m still a virgin,” or “It’s not like I’m sleeping around,” or “It’s fun and safe.” They refuse to believe that their sexting is a problem.
“It got to the point where it was all I could think about.”
“I started to think those people really cared about me. I honestly thought they loved me.”
“I used to put my phone in a Ziploc bag so I could still text while I was in the shower.”
“I didn’t care about any of my real friends anymore.”
“My parents were always mad about how much I was texting or that I was always in my room, but I didn’t care.”
These are just some of the comments made by teens at New Haven working to overcome their sexting addiction. Once the stimulus has been removed and they are able to see beyond the thrill/adrenaline and false sense of importance, they quickly feel embarrassment and shame. They all admit that there was a little voice telling them that it wasn’t okay while it happened; but that they also believed they were doing nothing wrong. They had no idea how addictive it would become.
How to Help
Most parents are unaware of how quickly and easily teens can get sucked into sexting. Providing Internet access without proper structure, supervision, and accountability is like giving a 5-year-old $100 and sending them into a candy store. Then later, we get angry with the 5-year-old when they are sick and throwing up. We blame them, remind them they know it will make them sick, and then give them the same amount of money the next day. Teens do not yet have the emotional maturity, impulse control, and strength of character needed to manage this sort of temptation on their own. It is our job as parents and professionals to help guide them and teach them through this process.
To find out more how New Haven helps young women overcome sexting addictions, please call us at 888-317-3958 or visit our website at www.newhavenrtc.com.
By: Dayna Buxton, LMFT and Assistant Clinical Director