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What Is Sexting and Why Is It a Problem?

Should you be concerned that your tween or teen is sexting?


What Is Sexting?

Sexting is sending sexually explicit messages via cell phone or instant messenger. As technology has advanced and cell phones have the capability to record and send photos and video, the practice of sending suggestive and explicit pictures has increased, especially among teens.

A joint study by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl suggests that 20% of teens (ages 13-19) and 33% of young adults (ages 20-26) have shared nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves either via text or by posting online. Teen girls are slightly more likely to do this than boys and 11% of the young teen girls (ages 13-16) admitted to sending suggestive photos of themselves.

As you can see, this isn't something to panic over, but it is an issue you may want to discuss with your kids.

Why Is Sexting a Problem?

For generation upon generation, young people and adults have been exchanging sexually suggestive and explicit letters, messages and other materials, so sexting shouldn't come as a big surprise. On the other hand, the ease with which photos and videos can be propagated is a concern. A photo shared between two people can quickly become a viral phenomenon. We have seen this happen with various celebrity photos and sex videos over the past few years.

  • Photos and videos sent privately can easily be shared with others.
  • Once digital images are out there, they leave a digital footprint, especially online. You can't "take it back."
  • 51% of teen girls cite pressure from guys as a reason to send explicit messages, while only 18% of teen boys say so. This is of concern where there is already a power imbalance in a relationship or an issue with self-esteem.
  • Sexting is currently illegal under federal law. It falls under the creation, distribution and possession of child porn and is a felony offense. While some lawmakers are working to change this, others are prosecuting both those taking the pictures and those possessing them.
  • What Can Parents Do about Sexting?

    The best approach to talking about sexting is to take a non-judgmental and informational approach. Keeping the dialogue open leaves room for your kids to talk with you rather than hiding things away. Remember that the word "sexting" was coined by the press. Kids may have a different name for it. Try some simple conversation starters to break the ice:

    • Have you heard about this sexting thing? Do you know anything about it?
    • I was watching TV/reading the news the other day and saw a story about some kids who got in trouble for sending [use your own word here - suggestive, sexy, naked, etc.] pictures to friends. Did you hear about that?
    • Can we talk about the types of things you and your friends like to share online? I want to make sure you're taking care of yourself and looking out for your friends, as well.

    Rather than leading the conversation, make sure you listen to your tween/teen. They may not agree with you about what is and isn't appropriate and may have some compelling reasons why. Helping them think about the possible consequences of their behavior and also the type of image they'd like to represent to the world is one way to encourage them to come to their own conclusions.

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