It seems like every teen today has a cell phone. Parents love them for their ease in keeping up with their busy kids, and teens love them for all the social media apps. There’s a big cause for concern, however: teen sexting is on the rise.
To many teens who have grown up on the internet, a partially nude photograph doesn’t seem bad. They see so many celebrities in various states of undress, it doesn’t register to them that it may be a crime.
Other teens are simply curious about sex and sexuality, and use sexting to explore those feelings.
Teen sexting refers to the practice of sending semi-nude, nude or sexually explicit material via cell phones. It’s important to note that legally, intent and composition and not clothing make a photo sexually explicit, not whether the subject is nude. Therefore, a picture taken with sexual intent, even if the subject is clothed, may count as sexting.
The statistics on sexting are alarming. The following is a compilation of statistics from various sources:
- 80 percent of teens that have sexted are under the age of 18. Cox Communications
- 11 percent of teens state they’ve sent nude pictures to a stranger. Cox Communications
- 75 percent of teens say they’ve been asked to send nude pictures via text. JAMA
- Nearly 40% of teens from both genders state they have had nude pictures that were sent to someone else shared with them. The National Campaign
Obviously, sexting is pretty common. To teens, it may seem like a common practice, but sexting carries many risks that you and your teen should be aware of.
- Some teens feel shame, low self esteem and become depressed following engaging in sexting.
- Isolation. Some teens have been bullied, either into sexting, or after the photos are shared.
- There are legal consequences to sexting. Very few laws recognize sexting as anything other than child pornography and some teens have faced prosecution.
- If caught sexting in school, students face consequences including suspension and expulsion.
One major concern for parents and teens alike should be the legal consequences of sexting. Current child pornography laws make no concession for images created by minors for minors, therefore, sexting is nearly always legally child pornography and carries stiff penalties.
Teens may believe that there’s little chance they’ll get caught, however, prosecution is occurring more and more frequently. While some states like Massachchusetts are attempting to formulate diversion and probation sentences for teens, the H.R. 1761 bill passed in 2017 which makes a 15 to 30 year sentence as a child pornographer a possibility for sexters.
It’s also important to note that with social media, teens have the ability to hide sexting better from their parents. Police found and disabled a sexting ring on the popular app Instagram that consisted of over 100 participants, all sharing explicit pictures under a private profile.
Other apps may encourage sexting by their seeming anonymity. Some apps are designed to delete photos after they are opened, and most apps are easy to sign up for without personal identification. This may lead teens to feel that they won’t be traceable.
If your teen is being pressured to engage in sexting, community support groups may help them. Local churches and community centers often have Teen Challenge style programs that work to discourage risky behavior in youth.
If your teen has engaged in sexting and now has low self-esteem, you should seek the help of a qualified professional. Speak to your teen if they seem distant or depressed, as they may be afraid or embarrassed to confide in you.
Teens have many reasons for sexting. They may feel pressured, want to fit in, or be exploring natural curiosity. It’s important to know how to talk to teens about sexting to help them make the right choices. There are some things you can do as a parent to help your teen.
- Before purchasing a cell phone, speak to your teen about the risks involved in sexting.
- Stress to your teen that sexting may be a crime. Look up your local statues and let your teen know of them as well.
- Let your teen know that you are available to talk to them regardless of the subject.
- Don’t embarrass your teen about their sexual curiosity as this may motivate them to hide more from you.
- Review the apps your teen uses and insist on username and password sharing so that you can monitor their online behavior.
- Don’t allow your teen to use any apps that feature an automatic delete feature.
- Check your teen’s browser history to ensure you are aware of all social media accounts.
- Help keep your teen busy with community involvement to lessen peer pressure.
In today’s society, sexting is a real danger to many teens. By being supportive and open with your teens, you can help prevent them from engaging in the behavior. Teens are naturally curious about sex and often do not understand that sexting can have life-altering consequences.
Through education and support, you can help your teen navigate to adulthood while avoiding the potential risks involved in sexting.