The Prevalence of Sexting
Sexting occurs when someone transmits sexually explicit content – such as sexually graphic language or nude photographs, over their cell phone to someone else. Recent headlines, including several tragedies involving teenagers, have taught us that such content inevitably makes its way from the intended receiver, to a larger online community.
As children of the digital age pledge their allegiance to keep up with the furious pace of digital media’s technological advancements, they seem to have lost in the struggle to gain a meaningful, pragmatic understanding of what these technologies represent.
Children ages 12 – 17 are the fastest growing segment of cell phone users. In the U.S. alone, 75% of this age group has cell phones with texting and picture messaging plans. A 2009 study by the Pew Research Center found that 66% of these kids use text messaging on their phones, sending an average of 50 texts per day.
Furthermore, the study also found that 15% of these tweens and teens have received a sexually graphic image or video on their cell phones of someone else. Surprisingly, only 4% of these teens ever sent a “sext” ( a sexting photo). These stats support the assertion that what is sent by one, gets viewed by many.
Educating Your Teen About Sexting
The first step in prevention is education. Parents need to give their tweens and teens a clear-cut definition of what sexting is. This is easier said than done, however, because the scope of what content constitutes a sext widens daily.
A recently prosecuted case involved younger teenage girls who innocently took pictures of each other in their bras while at a sleep over. Legal ramifications arose when the images wound up in front of the principal at their school.
Any type of sexual content involving under-age teens is now being analyzed under U.S. child pornography laws. A majority of sexting practices are occurring between couples where boyfriends are asking that nude and suggestive photographs of their girlfriends be sent by text picture to their phones.
And again, the pictures are generally viewed, forwarded, and shared by others outside the relationship, constituting child pornography distribution, a serious felony.
As a parent, you can no longer afford to let taboos about sexual dialogues interfere with the necessity of talking to your child about what sexting is, how it occurs, and what consequences your teen will face if they decide to participate in sexting.
You may start off a talk with your teen by using online technology to pull a recent case on sexting from the Internet and having them read it. Make sure they read the legal actions taken in these cases, and have a discussion about what could happen to these teens further down the road.
Talk to them about the case of Phillip Alpert and the subsequent consequences that ruined his life after he sent nude photos of his girlfriend to friends and family members.
Because of the fast-paced nature of sexting issues, now is not the time to take stock and analyze with your child why sexting has become an acceptable practice among their peers.
Instead, you need to stay ahead of the curve by using whatever means necessary to prevent sexting from entering your child’s world. Tell your teen that because of the lasting negative consequences of sexting participation, you will use parental monitoring software on their cell phone and all text messages going forward. Read this article for more parenting tips on sexting.
It is also advisable to tell them not to take, or have taken, any digital images of themselves whatsoever and if they receive a sext message they should immediately delete it.