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What is “Sexting”?
“Sexting” is the electronic transmission of sexually suggestive or explicit texts, images, or videos to another person, through a mobile device, tablet or computer.
Roughly 50% of youth will send some form of sexually suggestive or explicit text or image, which includes both pics and videos, during their teen years. The content of the image can range from a snap of themselves in underwear, to a nude or semi-nude pic, or even video footage of them touching themselves, or having sex.
Incredibly, nearly 15% of teens who have sent or posted nude/semi-nude images of themselves send these messages to people they have never met in person!
Why do Teens Sext?
- It’s seen as normal. If sexting is believed to be the norm in a young person’s social circle, they will be more inclined to sext. Most teens believe there will be no negative outcomes, so what’s the harm? They sext because they can. Their phones are right there. One snap, and a few clicks and into the ether it goes. Quick and easy.
- They received one. Nearly 23% of boys and 14% of girls report feeling pressured to sext because someone sent one to them first.
- It’s seen as a part of being in a relationship. 44% of teens say that they send explicit images in the context of an exclusive romantic relationship.
- To Flirt. 34% of young sexters have used it this way. 29% of teens believe it’s a necessary part of dating or ‘hooking up’.
- Out of pressure. This is far more common for girls – 1 in 2 say being pressurized by the opposite sex is a common reason to sext, whereas only 1 in 5 boys say the same. In fact, 61% of all sexters who have sent nude images admit that they were pressured to do it at least once.
- Status Symbol: Especially for boys, having a collection of nudes from multiple girls can be a status symbol to brag about to their friends.
- “Revenge Porn” — some teens send these images out of spite after a breakup. As one teen once told me “I did promise her I’d never share that video, but when I found out she cheated on me, something snapped in me. It felt “right” to get back at her, to hurt her like she hurt me.”
- Feels good–the “thrill” of sexting, the risk, the nudity sends dopamine (the pleasure neurotransmitter) cascading through the teen brain. In addition 34% of teen girls who sext report that sending those images makes them feel sexy, confident, naughty or grown-up.
- Lack of Adult/Parent Supervision. Many parents don’t understand the prevalence, risk and dangers of sexting and haven’t had serious conversations about it with their teens. Left alone with an unmonitored or poorly monitored device, it’s difficult for teens to withstand the pressures.
- As a “Joke”. Nearly 40% of teens who sext indicate they’ve done it “as a joke.”
The Dangers of Sexting
- It’s Possession and Distribution of Child Pornography. It is a felony to be in possession of sexually explicit images of minors even if you are the minor. That’s right, the law in most states deems it illegal for a minor to possess a nude image of even themselves on their phone. A conviction usually merits one having to register on the National Sex Offender list for the next ten years. And while many argue that the intent of child pornography statutes is not to catch/prevent teen sexting, the reality is that the law is, well, the law and some judges are administering the full penalty.
- A sext will quite possibly be shared. Nearly ⅓ of teens report having had images shared with them that were previously sent to someone else. Combined with the fact that nearly 20% of teens indicate they would be willing to share someone else’s nude photos, it is clear you cannot trust others to keep sexts confidential.
- Texts don’t disappear. Teens don’t realize that disappearing image, like those on snapchat, can be obtained by law enforcement. Nothing electronic is ever “gone” or “deleted.” Police have access to sophisticated technology they use to “dump” phones and other devices. “Dumping” a device often involves pulling up activity, images and text that the user “deleted” but are still accessible. Even when they can’t get the images from the device itself, they can subpoena Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram who stores all of those “deleted” images.
- Loss of self worth. With so many teens admitting feeling pressured to sext, teens can feel disappointed in themselves for caving in (this is often an unconscious process). We gain self worth through worthwhile behavioral choices.
- It is hurtful and even lethal to others. There are confirmed reports of teens who took their lives because a sext they sent to someone expecting confidentiality was shared. Even in cases when sharing sexts or regretting sending a sext does not culminate in suicide, there is almost always psychological and emotional harm done to one’s self or another person.
- It’s possible to engage an online predator. Many teens report having sent and received sexts to and from people they’ve never met in person. With online predation so prevalent today, sexting with someone a teen doesn’t even know can be especially dangerous.
What Adults Can Do
- Acknowledge the problem. Too many adults want to believe their teens are not exposed to these dangerous behaviors. If your teen is in middle school or high school, trust me, they’ve heard about it. Do you want them discussing it with their friends or with you, their parent or other trusted adult?
- Initiate a Series of Conversations. Don’t wait for your teen to bring it up. They won’t. It’s too embarrassing for them. You might start by saying, “Would it be OK if we talked for 5 minutes about an awkward, but important topic? I promise to keep it to 5 minutes.” After your “5 minutes are up” stop the conversation, as hard as it might be for you and say “OK, I’m done. I promised 5 minutes. There’s more to discuss but I’ll give you some time to recover. Plan to revisit the topic at least once or twice more in the next few weeks for 5-10 minute chat. Remember, talking longer makes us feel good, it usually lessens the amount of what “sticks” for teens. Make it a point to discuss the common reasons teens sext, the pressures involved and the possible dangers and consequences.
- Gradually Ramp up Supervision. Many teens sext when they’re alone in their room with their mobile or other device unsupervised. You may consider whether allowing your teen to have their phone unsupervised is appropriate for your teen. Some teens are disciplined in these matters where others simply need oversight and accountability.
- Discuss consequences for multiple accounts. This surprises many adults that many kids will have 2 accounts – one that their parents can see, and another secret one. They can also easily bypass parental controls. We must become digitally savvy, as a basic part of our parental responsibility.
- Discuss both female and male objectification. Yes, both males and females are objectified, in sexting and in other ways. Part of our conversation with teens is helping them to realize that humans, while we are inherently sexual beings, possess a beauty and dignity that includes but far surpasses physical beauty and attraction. To limit someone’s worth to a nude image or video is to devalue that person. This type of objectification is prevalent in our culture today, making it an insidious problem to address.