While parents may never have heard of it, surveys show that twenty to sixty percent of teens are “sexting”. While this troubling trend continues full speed ahead, parents, teachers and lawmakers are now struggling to react appropriately to the phenomenon that puts kids at risk for exploitation, harassment, and even felony charges.
Sexting is a combination of the words “sex” and “text messaging”. “Sexting” is the sending of sexually provocative messages or visual images to and from cell phones and computers. It is important to understand that kids as young as nine-years old may be doing it all the way up to older teens.
Some teens may use sexting to flirt, others to have fun or be funny, and still others to gain recognition, improve their social status, or hurt or harass. While some may feel that it is gossip or a mating call, basically it’s sexual harassment. Parents need to look closely at the trend as an expression of larger changes in the way teens and young adults relate sexually. Sexting is just a reflection of what’s actually going on in the behavior and mores of sexual behavior.
Sexting makes use of cell phone and computer technology to send sexually provocative images and messages, yet everyone should understand that with increased accessibility comes greatly increased risk. Gone are the days of a girl just slipping a suggestive Polaroid photo to her boyfriend: now, provocative photos that are sent in private can be forwarded to the entire school body after a break-up, posted online, and available in perpetuity over the Internet.
Emotional trauma is just one of the dangers that is associated with sexting behavior. Several teens across the country are now facing child pornography charges for sending or receiving sexually provocative images of themselves or their peers. Teens should be taught that sharing digitized images of themselves in embarrassing or compromised positions can have bad consequences, but many people feel that prosecutors should not be using heavy artillery like child-pornography charges to teach them that lesson.
Today in many states those who are convicted are ending up on sex registry lists. This means that convicted teens could end up as registered sex offenders for the simple act of taking and sending photos of themselves. This could mean that they stay on Internet registries for ten years or more and prevent them from getting many types of jobs.
And everyone should understand that while the legal system is slapping teens with outsized charges for sexting behavior, it’s the real predators that should be the concern. Private videos and photos are increasingly becoming stolen fodder for sexually suggestive or explicit websites and blogs, even when the personal content is password protected or saved on a private hard drive.
But for parents who only want to protect their children, there is a key point to fall back on. Communication is key. Kids probably will not respond well if you ask them pointblank, “Are you sexting?” In fact, some may not even recognize the term. Instead of grilling your child, you need to keep informed about what’s going on generally, from crushes and relationships to friendships and bullying. Many small conversations will give you a much better idea of your child’s social life than one big discussion and your child will be more apt to talk to you if she feels you are consistently on the level. If you learn that your child is dating or engaging in sexual behaviors, you need to have a frank talk about sex and include the topic of sexting. If not, you should be sure to have a discussion about bullying that addresses the issue of using text messages to harass or humiliate others.