RIDGEFIELD, Conn. — Two topics that are certain to make a parent's head spin — cellphones and sex — met head-on in a talk at the Ridgefield Library.
There were two speakers at the recent talk, which was called "Sexting and Hooking Up: Talking With Your Kids About Sex And Healthy Relationships." Ann Rodwell-Lawton is from the Women's Center of Greater Danbury, and Kate Ott is a professor at Yale University and Drew University.
The talk, which was attended by over 75 people, focused on healthy and unhealthy relationships — and knowing the signs of both.
Ott addressed sexting, which she defined as sending or receiving nude or semi-nude photos via digital media.
"Sending a part of your body as an image to someone isn't showing you as a whole person," Ott said. "When you are seen as a whole complex human being then you are loved for who you are not for who someone else wants you to be."
Before taking part in sexting, she said, teens should ask themselves the following questions:
- Am I honoring my body or using it as an object?"
- How is this going to deepen or strengthen the relationship I have with this other person?
- Do I trust this information won't be saved, forwarded or used later in a negative way.
- Do I find it pleasurable?
Rodwell-Lawton, who is also a social worker, encouraged parents to talk to their teens about the social and emotional consequences of sexting, as well as the legal ones.
"If the individual in the picture that is being sent is under the age of consent, it is considered child pornography," she said. "If youth forward a sexual picture of someone underage, they are distributing child pornography."
She said all teens should have a trusted adult on their social media accounts.
Aside from sexting, Rodwell-Lawton also spoke about the foundations of healthy relationships. She said parents model healthy behaviors for their kids from the time their kids are very young.
She also spoke of how important it is that a child feels in control of his or her body. If a child feels uncomfortable giving physical affection, no matter to who it is, he or she should not be forced to do so, Rodwell-Lawton said.
For example, she said children should not have to hug a grandparent or other person in their life if they don't want to.
"If parents make them do this, the parents are sending their children the message that they don't have any control over their body.
"Children's sense of safety is more important than an adult's feeling of rejection," she said.
Parents need to teach children how they can be assertive of their boundaries while still being respectful. "To greet grandma, he can wave or say hi, or even give a high five," she said.
Healthy relationships take a lot of work and intentionality, Rodwell-Lawton said, "and that's why it's so important to start those conversations when our kids are young."
The Women's Center of Greater Danbury serves Bethel, Bridgewater, Brookfield, Danbury, Kent, New Fairfield, New Milford, Newtown, Redding, Ridgefield, Roxbury, Sherman, and Washington.