It’s hard to believe, but this spring’s latest lurid scandal can actually be an opportunity for parents.

As is becoming more and more evident, “sexting” is a full-blown phenomenon, and not just among members of Congress. Fifteen percent of teens ages 12 to 17 admitted to receiving a sexually explicit text and four percent admitted sending one in a 2009 survey by Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project.

A Fairfax Station boy texts on his cellphone. (Chuck Snyder/Special to The Washington Post)

So this is not just a case of teenage hormones run amok. The impulse to sext, said Amanda Lenhart, author of the Pew study, is often an effort to show trust and love.

In focus groups Pew hosted alongside the survey, researchers found that the teens least likely to sext were those who understood how trust can be breached. They were the ones who understood the potential consequences of sending a suggestive photo, the potential “reputational damage,” Lenhart said.

In other words, the reputational damage Rep. Anthony Weiner is now enduring offers parents a chance to address the issue straight up.

One parenting expert, Joani Geltman, a child development and parenting expert in Massachusetts, today offered on her blog an apt script.

Here’s an excerpt:

“There couldn’t be a better teaching moment. Here is a well-respected, smart man who is now the laughing stock of our country. He has lost the respect of his colleagues, his constituents, his family and his friends. He may possibly even lose his job.

And honestly, the pictures weren’t even that bad, he wasn’t posing naked, just manly. We don’t have the content of the sexting messages that were sent, thank god, but we know they existed.

But when these pictures and sexting messages get into the wrong hands of people who are mad at you, want to expose you, get back at you, or just don’t like you, they can wreak havoc and potentially ruin your life.”

It’s a bracing lesson. One for kids, and maybe some of their parents too.

Have you talked to your kids about sexting? Will you talk to them about the Rep. Weiner episode?

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