1. Extinguishing Sextortion
What it is: As of July 2023, there were over 12,000 reports of financial sextortion (often called “sextortion”) of minor children. This points to a marked rise in reports of this type of abuse.
What families need to know: Most targets of sextortion are teen boys, who seem to be more likely than girls to send an explicit selfie to someone they aren’t having a romantic relationship with. Anonymous scammers will reach out to their target over social media, engaging in a flirtation and eventually asking for nudes. (Note here that a young person who has never taken a nude picture before might still do so impulsively.) Once an anonymous scammer gets a hold of incriminating material, they quickly turn hostile, making financial demands and threatening to post the embarrassing material publicly if these demands are not met. Teens might not feel comfortable talking to their parents about what happened, and panic may ensue. Families can prepare by telling their teens about resources like TakeItDown, a free service which will remove nudes from the internet within two days, and the 24/7 Crisis Text Line, which connects teens with professional counselors via text at any time. Above all, teens need to understand that your support, compassion, and assistance are unconditional—and that you are in their corner, no matter the circumstances.
Start the conversation: What would you do if someone was blackmailing you online?
2. Red Flags
What it is: The cultural buzz around Taylor Swift and her new love interest, Travis Kelce—whose couple nickname is #traylor—is everywhere. But is everything as it seems?
What teens are speculating: September 24 marked the first time Taylor Swift was seen at a Kansas City Chiefs’ game. Her presence there, alongside Donna Kelce, seemed to confirm that she is in a relationship with Kansas City’s starting tight end. In the short weeks since, the NFL has taken the opportunity to exploit the popularity of Ms. Swift in every conceivable way. Gen Z loves to speculate on industry plants, PR relationships, and celebrity spin, which means that many conversations revolve around whether #traylor (which currently has 77.8 million TikTok views) is in a real romantic relationship or if this whole thing is staged for attention. Footage of Swift coyly pointing Kelce out on the field to her friend Blake Lively seems to indicate she’s actually smitten, but football fans already exhausted by how Swift news has invaded sports commentary are calling, well, foul.
Start the conversation: Do you think that Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce’s relationship is real —or is it a PR stunt?
3. The Education Choice Equation
What it is: An article in Christianity Today argues that choosing Christian school or homeschooling won’t necessarily serve as an insurance policy for a child’s faith.
What to take away: It can be tempting to declare that there is only one right way for Christians to educate their children. Some learning environments are openly hostile to Christian values, and public schools often become the battlefield where culture wars play out. Parents who choose to homeschool or send their children to private schools may do so to protect their children from certain ideas while promoting other ideas—but they may also do so for a host of other varied and valid reasons. A study published in 2021 suggests homeschooled and privately educated children may be more likely to grow up to attend church more often—though that isn’t exactly the same as growing up to sincerely love the Lord. Of course, there are as many different reasons to make educational choices as there are families, and each decision has its own unique tradeoffs. But when considering your own family’s choices, and the choices of others, it is worth understanding that discipling teens who will make a lifelong commitment to Christ is an art, not a science. And, as the article puts it, “No schooling choice you can make will let you skip grieving with your child over the brokenness of our world.”
Start the conversation: What are some of the challenges of living out your faith in your current educational environment?
Slang of the Week
“The girlfriend effect”: This slang is born from a newer TikTok trend. That trend involves women showing a “before and after”-style slideshow with photos of their boyfriend or husband before they started dating, followed by photos of how they look now. The implication is that the “girlfriend effect” results in men looking more put-together, confident, and attractive. There’s some debate about the phrase’s’s subtext, with some people applauding what might have previously been called “a woman’s touch” while others criticizing the cookie-cutter, Instagram-ready styles the girlfriends are impressing on their boyfriends. If you’re curious, a “boyfriend effect” trend also exists, but generally, the result is reversed, where women post flattering photos of themselves before dating and less-flattering photos after.
It can feel like every day brings something new for parents to be afraid of. The possibility of a child facing sextortion is as terrifying as it is real. And parenting with care and intention doesn’t mean that our children won’t be bombarded with the tragic fallout of selfishness and sin. Even when we try our hardest to protect and shield our children, this life holds no guarantee of safety.
But throughout scripture, we’re reminded that our hope lies in a life beyond this world. Sin can be a shape-shifter, and the destruction it causes can take on seemingly limitless forms. But in contrast, our Hope is overwhelmingly more powerful—not because of how it can change, but because it is unchanging. We serve a God who is never shocked, surprised, or at a loss for what to do, and even our biggest mistake can’t separate us from Him. Bill Tell, author of “Lay it Down: Living in the Freedom of the Gospel,” says that, “Salvation means we can never be closer to Jesus than we are now. We are superglued heart to heart, face to face.”
Parents can be the champions of this superglued hope in our children’s lives, cultivating a place of safety and love for them to run to no matter what they’re going through. We are able to maintain that space and live out that hope for them only because it has been maintained and lived out for us, every day into eternity. Romans 15:13 tells us that we serve a God who is Himself hope, and from Him flows the Spirit of hope that fills us to overflowing with unkillable confidence if only we trust Him. We can tell our children that they can run to us through all trouble, because together we can run to the God of hope everlasting.
Here are some questions to open up these conversations with your teens:
- Do you feel that there is any problem you couldn’t come to me with? Do you think there’s anything you couldn’t bring to God?
- How do you find hope when life feels too hard?
- Can you think of a time when you’ve felt hopeful in a difficult situation? What made you feel that way?