“Trinity” had been receiving unwelcomed “sext” messages.
Her story has been difficult for me to write; I felt the “telling” carried an incredible weight. Certain details — the specific words that were said to her and the fact that she had experimented with cutting as a result, weighed on me. I didn’t know what to tell, what to leave out.
I wondered: did I save Trinity’s story as the last in this series for a purpose, or did I somehow put it off, because it was difficult to deal with? I now see that the best way to cap off this series about Kids (and Adults) and Social Media is to hear from a teen, and a parent, in their own VOICES.
“The Growth Chart”: I’ve never understood the “cutting” thing. What makes someone do it?
Trinity: I was sad. About the things they were saying about me. “You stupid slut.” Other stuff. I don’t know why. I just did it.
TGC: Will you do it again?
Trinity: Never. I told a friend. She told the guidance counselor, who told my parents. We spent hours together. I was able to start dealing with the issues. At first, I was mad, but my friend totally did the right thing. You should not keep silent if someone is in trouble.
TGC: For months, you told no one about the sexts. What was your thought
Trinity: I was afraid of the reactions.
TGC: Did you feel like people would say it was your fault?
Trinity: People from school. I knew my parents wouldn’t say that, but I was still afraid of their reaction.
TGC: Who did you tell first?
Trinity: I told a teacher, who nagged me to tell my parents. My mom read the texts and was appalled. Later, a guy friend who goes to “Sander’s” school figured out who he is and said that he does this to a ton of other girls. He wanted to go to his guidance counselor. At first, I didn’t want that to happen, because, I don’t know why, but I didn’t want to get Sander in trouble. My friend convinced me I’d probably be doing others a favor if we talked about it.
TGC: Why would someone keep doing this for months even after you stopped responding?
Trinity: I know, right? I didn’t understand that either. If I’m not responding, why would you keep trying? And the second guy-- after he told me “the rumor” he’d heard about me, I stopped texting him there. But he kept texting me. At some point, I told him to stop, and he said, “Why?” I said, “You’re going to get in trouble if you don’t.” He asked, “How?” I ignored him.
TGC: I am not being accusatory at all…please hear me…but I want to know, from the beginning, what possessed you to talk to someone you didn’t know—even if he was a boy your age—even if he seemed normal—?
Trinity: I guess it was…stupidity…You’re not supposed to talk to people you don’t know. For all I knew, he could’ve not even been a kid. He could’ve been, like-- an adult…
TGC: A pedophile?
TGC: And that’s what scares the living (you know what) out of me, Trinity. For you. You know Amanda Todd’s story, right? It’s so frightening. So…what would you say to other teens who are approached, in whatever way, either on Facebook or texting or some other realm, and you don’t know them, what should you do?
Trinity: If it’s on Facebook and you don’t recognize the name, don’t befriend them at all. Don’t even THINK about it. If it’s a text, I think it’s o.k. to ask them who they are, but if it is someone you don’t know, stop there. Don’t even reply.
TGC: What is the best approach to dealing with “sexting”? (And by the way, sexting isn’t appropriate for someone your age, not if it’s your boyfriend, or someone you know who is flirting with you. It’s downright scary if it’s someone you don’t know.) So, what would you do differently at this point?
Trinity: Tell an adult immediately. Whether it’s your parents or any trustworthy adult. You need to tell them so they can stop it before it gets out of hand.
TGC: What were you afraid was going to happen?
Trinity: As I said, I was afraid what people would say. I had a general fear of what was going to happen.
TGC: And what ACTUALLY happened?
Trinity: The guys stopped. Both of them. People were like, “I’m sorry this happened to you,” so it was the complete opposite of what I thought was going to happen.
TGC: How do you take the power away from the person who is sexting?
Trinity: I think, you tell an adult and you get the problem settled. Not to be mean or anything, but it’s serious and they need to learn their lesson, and they need to get in trouble. That’s how you take the power from them.
Though both of Trinity’s parents were aware of and concerned about the situation, Trinity’s mother, "Constance," was the one who took the lead on dealing with the situation. She was the one Trinity came to.
TGC: What advice do you have for parents to be proactive?
Constance: The rule in our house is--I pay for your phone, I get to look at it whenever I want. She knows I can grab it whenever. The most important thing is the relationship you have with your child. Trinity and I are close. I often ask her what’s going on in her life. Even if she gives single word answers, I’m on her.
TGC: You are close, and yet there was this period of silence. What could you have done differently?
C: I don’t know…I knew something was wrong. I know my child. I knew she wasn’t acting the same way. So I just kept asking.
TGC: So what should a parent do if something like this happens?
C: I found out who was sending the texts, I found him on Facebook, I contacted his parents, collected data from Trinity’s phone and when another boy started contacting her, I went to the police. We also changed her number. I would tell other parents to not put it off, and let your child know that you are handling the situation.
TGC: What can parents say to their teen to help them to feel comfortable talking?
C: Tell them, “I didn’t grow up in the age of the internet, but I know what goes on.” It goes along with talking about sex and drugs and all the other issues. Constantly reiterate to your child that everything they are going through is important to you.
Taking the Power from the Perp
The messages did not stop until Trinity took action. Trinity’s mother took action, but without discussing them with her daughter, perhaps in an effort to shelter her. Trinity felt at a loss because she had told, but “nothing” was happening. How does anyone know how to proceed in a situation like this?
In the end, several steps led to the perpetrators’ loss of power:
1) Trinity told the boy to stop then ignored him.
2) She told an adult, who encouraged her to tell her parents.
3) Her parents took action, including contacting the police and changing Trinity’s number.
4) Trinity has agreed not to “talk” to strangers.
5) Trinity’s parents closely monitor her phone; Trinity seems okay with that.
The title of this series comes from Ecclesiastes 1:9, which says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
There are root issues in what we’ve discussed about social media. It comes down to our humanity and these desires:
-to be acknowledged, affirmed, known and accepted
-to have control/power
-to use words to connect in a meaningful, intimate way
From the beginning of time, these longings have had the potential for good or for evil. Social media tools are no different.
It has been an honor to talk with you, Dear Patch readers, about these issues. And to conclude with Trinity’s voice, which is one of strength and intelligence. Of lessons learned. Of empowerment. She knows that she doesn’t have to allow someone else the power of saying inappropriate things to her. Her voice also represents the humility with which we all should approach social media. Trinity acknowledges her need of her parents’ protection at this stage in her life, a sign of true maturity for one so young. We all need protection and accountability, no matter what our age or station.
Trinity is an overcomer. She knows her worth and is standing strong. May it be so with all of our children.