What is Sexting?
Very simply, sexting is a play on the term “texting” and is applied to the action of sending semi-nude or nude photos to others on a cell phone, or posting these types of pictures online.
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Parent NewsletterHomeWord's Good Advice Parent Newsletter - Improving Communication With Your Teenager - May 2013
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What is Sexting?
Why do Kids Sext?
The dynamics at play when teens sext are varied. Many factors in any combination such as a need for attention, the desire to be recognized, peer-pressure, flirtation, new teen dating rituals, proof of commitment in a relationship, raging hormones, following the example of noted teen celebrities, adolescent risk-taking, and immaturity can be involved in a teen’s decision to sext.
A 2012 study of high school students that was published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior found that kids who were aware of possible legal consequences of sexting were actually more likely to have sexted someone than those who weren’t aware. Donald Strassberg, the lead author of the study suggests that it is possible that some kids see sexting as attractive simply because there is risk involved – because risk-taking is a part of the adolescent mindset.
Know the Danger of Digital Photos in Cyberspace.
Many kids don’t have the maturity to intuitively know or think through the consequences of distributing digital photos electronically. This is a key area that parents can have influence with their kids, by educating them of the dangers associated with sexting.
Once a digital photo makes it out into Cyberspace, there’s no way to guarantee that another person (particularly those with a little tech-savvy) can’t get their hands on the photo, not to mention distribute it. And, once released into Cyberspace it’s possible that for better or for worse, it’s out there forever!
Now if we’re talking about a photo of my recently seeded lawn that I emailed to my brother, well that’s no big deal. If someone in Cyberspace really wants it, they can have it! Yet, what about the picture of your daughter that a friend took on her cell phone at that sleepover last weekend when they were being silly (in their underwear) at 2:00 a.m.? And, let’s assume that the friend quickly sent it to some other peers in her contact list with no malicious intent, but just to be funny? That’s sexting!
Understand the Consequences of Sexting.
Certainly not all kids who have sent a sext or have received one will experience consequences. But, the truth is that sexting can and has led to devastating consequences. For the teen whose inappropriate photo was passed along to friends, peers, teachers, and strangers, the damage can be devastating. It can even be a matter of life and death.
One example is the story of Jesse Logan. Jesse, a high school student in Cincinnati, suffered vicious bullying and harassment by peers after the boyfriend she had broken up with, sexted a nude photo of her to other girls at the high school where she attended. In July, 2008, Jesse hanged herself in her bedroom closet, her cell phone laying on the middle of the floor.
Another example is of a 13-year-old middle school student from Florida, Hope Witsell, who hanged herself after a topless photo she had sent to a boy in hope of getting his attention, was disturbed to classmates in her school. The bullying that followed was more than Hope could bear.
On the other side of the spectrum, teens who possess and/or distribute sexts to others are in danger of finding themselves in trouble with the law.
When sexting became a recognized phenomenon, local governments had little choice but to charge sexting teens under existing child pornography statues. The result was that kids were being convicted as felons and sex offenders. In recent years, local governments have scrambled to pass new laws pertaining to sexting with punishments that more accurately fit the crime. Under many of these new laws, receiving an uninvited sexual photo isn’t a crime. But, failing to delete the photo from a cell phone or distributing these photos to others is against the law.
The good news is that not all kids are sexting. The most recent study, released in 2012, revealed that of almost 1,000 high school students surveyed, 28 percent said that they had sent a naked photo of themselves via text or email. This number is well above the percentage that has been seen in other recent surveys. But, let’s take the number at face value. This means that only about one in four kids have sent a sext of themselves. A healthy dose of parental perspective will keep in mind that three out of four kids have not sent a sext. Is sexting something worth addressing with your teens? Certainly. Should parents panic? Absolutely not.
Talk About Sexting with Your Kids.
Media coverage on sexting these days makes it easy to bring sexting up in conversation with your kids. Use a news item as a springboard to engage your kids in discussion. Share with your kids the dangers associated with sexting. Don’t assume that one discussion with your kids will be all they’ll need to help keep them safe. Revisit the discussion from time to time.
Include Spiritual Aspects in Your Discussions.
Use discussions about sexting to reinforce God-honoring principles of sexuality, healthy self-esteem, and respect for self and others.
Set Clear Expectations and Consequences for Sexting.
Even after discussing the issues with you kids, there’s no way to guarantee that your daughter or son won’t ever send, receive or keep a sext. Consistent discipline is the pathway to helping your kids navigate the rough seas of adolescence into responsible adulthood. So, set sexting expectations and consequences. Expectations might include:
• No taking photos on your cell phone of anyone who is semi-nude, nude, or engaged in other inappropriate behavior.
• No sending or forwarding of a sext is allowed.
• If you receive a sext, tell mom, dad, a teacher, or other trusted adult about it.
• If you receive a sext, delete it.
• No harassing or bullying of other kids who have been involved in sexting is allowed.
Don’t Hesitate to Follow Up.
If you become aware of stories (or actually see photos) that indicate inappropriate photos or videos being circulated among students, don’t assume that another adult knows and is handling the issue. Contact your school officials as soon as possible.
As Close As You Can Come to Safety.
If you are proactive enough to enter into discussions with your child about sexting, and are willing to set specific and clear expectations about sexting behaviors, then the likelihood of keeping your son or daughter safe from the risks and consequences of sexting goes way up. In a technological culture without a lot of guarantees, this might come as close to safety as you can reasonably hope.