Teen sexting is in the news a lot lately, and not in a good way. It is a major unintended consequence (we think) if the ubiquity of smartphones. Either that or the smartphone makers saw it coming. Regardless, it is here.
Most parents we talk to are aghast at the thought of their teens sexting, and rightfully so. It’s a risky behavior, and seems too promiscuous or too sexually aggressive to be something that teens should be doing. Nonetheless, they are.
There are three main potential negative outcomes for teens who sext:
Revenge Porn – Obviously if you send someone nudes you aren’t expecting them to share the photos or video with anyone else. You’re probably in a trusting relationship with that person. Things change, though, and having those pics posted publicly can be devastating.
Child Pornography Charges – Laws, and how aggressively they are applied, vary from state to state, but it seems that a week doesn’t go by without police and prosecutors at least considering pressing charges against minors for consensual sexting. Those laws need to change.
Premature sexual activity – There are reports of pre teens sexting at ages that are far too young for anything involving nudity. Is sexting a gateway drug to more intimate activity? We’re not sure, but in some cases it probably is.
The folks at The Sentinel did an excellent roundup this month of teen sexting statistics. Let’s take a look:
- 39% of teens between 13 and 19 have sent at least one sext message
- 48% of teens had received at least one sext message
Clearly, some teens are sending sexts to more people that they’re receiving them from.
Of teens who are involved in sexting:
- 63% said they send the images to a boyfriend or girlfriend (if there’s a “good” kind of sexting, this is it)
- 28% send them to people they are casually dating
- 24% send them to someone they only know through online interaction
- 19% send them to people they don’t know, but encountered through a hookup or messaging app
Of those who have received sext messages, 25% report having forwarded at least some of them to friends. Problematic.
When asked about their reasons for sexting, the teens responded:
- 49% said it is harmless
- 39% did it hoping to receive photos in return
- 32% said it was normal, or that everyone else is doing it
- 13% said they were pressured into doing it by a boyfriend or girlfriend
As we said above, it can be far from harmless. As for those who feel pressured to do it, we feel that this is yet another parenting challenge, but one that is manageable.
The key to parenting around sexting is conversation, and starting that conversation before a romantic relationship in general or sexting specifically is even a consideration. We recommend talking to your kids about sexting before they are given unrestricted access to an internet connected device. As teens get older, you may not be able to convince them that it is wrong, but you should be able to assure them that they don’t have to do it if they feel pressured, and that they can always come to you for help.
Finally, talk to your kids about not forwarding sext messages that they receive, even if they come in unsolicited. That’s just mean.
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