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Carli Leavitt is a public relations specialist and avid blogger who is passionate about the safety of children in the digital age. Follow her on Twitter @CarliLeavitt
Oct 06, 2016
Imagine being a teenager at this point in today’s world. Constantly connected to friends, family, and strangers through the internet and having the ability to call, text, chat, or share a picture or video at the touch of a button. Today’s kids are always connected to the outside world through their mobile devices and while most of the time, this can be a great tool, it also means our kids are continuously making decisions based on what others think of them. This can become especially confusing and hard to navigate as teens start exploring sexuality, becoming more independent, and all the while trying to fit in with their peers.
While it’s said that an estimated 8 out of 10 adults engage in occasional “sexting”, studies also show that 1 in 5 teens have participated in sexting and 1 in 10 have done so with someone they only know online. Considering so many teens are sending or receiving “sexts”, it’s important for parents to have a clear understanding of what is sexting and if teen sexting is potentially dangerous.
What is Sexting?
Sexting is defined by the U.S. Court System as “an act of sending sexually explicit materials through mobile devices.” This includes photos, videos, sexual text and other messages of a sexual nature.
Who is Participating in Teen Sexting?
The idea of your teenage son or daughter sending or receiving a sext is enough to send most parents into a panic. It’s easy to think, “my teen would never do that!” But in reality, teen sexting is much more common than some may believe.
According to the 2008 National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy survey, 20% of teens have sent or posted nude photos or videos of themselves.
And 39% of all teens have sent or posted messages that are sexual in nature.
While the majority of teens participating in sexting, have sent such messages to a girlfriend or boyfriend (71% of girls, 67% of boys), 15% of teens who have sent or posted suggestive images online said they shared them with someone they only knew online.
Why are Teens Sexting?
There are a lot of opinions when it comes to why teens participate in sexting, but one clear reality is it’s a new way kids and teens are expressing and exploring their sexuality. It is typical sexual behavior for teens to have a curiosity about sexual relationships and start to explore that. Sexual experimentation of sorts is a natural part of growing up and while a lot of parents think of sexting as bad behavior, some research suggests that it’s a form of modern day flirting. Rather than going streaking or skinny-dipping with friends, teens are sexting.
Is Teen Sexting a Bad Thing?
Sexting on it’s own between peers may be relatively harmless, but there are serious dangers to consider if those sexts get into the wrong hands. Many kids and teens are becoming the targets of bullying after sending a sext and then having it shared with multiple people or posted online. There have also been cases of children and teens being targeted by online predators who manipulate teens into sending sexts and then use threats to get them to send more graphic sexual content to be posted online.
Sexting is also illegal and can come with hefty penalties. Children as young as 14 have been charged with serious sex crimes after sending or receiving underage sexts. These penalties can include registering as a sex offender, getting kicked out of school, probation, or even jail time. These charges usually accompany not just simple sexting, but also manipulation or cyber bullying.
It is important for all kids and teens to understand the dangers of underage sexting from both the victim and perpetrator’s standpoint. What may seem like an innocent or flirtatious sext, could end up being public knowledge in a matter of minutes with social media and the ability to save and send photos and videos online. Cases of cyber bullying due to sexting has lead to severe depression and even suicide among some teens.
Talk To Your Kids About Sexting
It may be hard to completely prevent your child from participating in teen sexting, but here are a few tips for helping kids make good decisions when it comes to what they are sharing online:
By maintaining a strict internet/mobile device use schedule and social media monitoring at an early age, parents can set good ground rules for responsible internet use. By teaching kids to take time away from mobile devices, spend limited time on social media, and talking openly about the dangers of over sharing, cyber bullying, and sexting, parents can arm their children with the knowledge to make good decisions as they enter their teenage years in this new high tech world.