I was late to the digital revolution. I resisted as long as I could. But as the famous movie quote goes, “Resistance is futile.”
As soon as I started Facebook, my eyes were opened to the wonders of social media. And don’t get me started on Twitter–I LOVE Twitter! I’m able to connect with so many people from all over the globe. The amount of information at my fingertips is staggering. The chance to reconnect with old high school friends has been fantastic. I really do love all this technology and how it’s increased my ability to connect and communicate with people.
But like anything, there are those who push the line and the envelope. With this influx of technology, there are dangers lurking for us and our kids. This week, we’ll look at “sexting.”
What is sexting?
Sexting is a new reality in youth culture. It occurs when a person takes a sexually revealing photo of themselves and send it to other people. It can also involve sending sexually explicit texts to others.
This is a problem that is more prevalent than you might think. According to surveys done by CosmoGirl and The National Campaign to Prevent Teen an Unplanned Pregnancy, 2009:
- Twenty-two percent of teen girls and 20 percent of teen boys have sent nude or partially phones of themselves over the Internet on their phones.
- Twenty-two percent of teens admit that technology makes them more forward and aggressive.
- Thirty-eight percent of teens say exchanging sexy content makes dating or hooking up with others more likely.
- Twenty-nine percent of teens believe those exchanging sexy content are “expected” to date or hook up.
And according to information from MTV and The Associated Press, 30 percent of teens sext.
Not only do 20 to 30 percent of teens sext, but it can become life or death when that picture starts to circulate around the school and community. AMW’s Safety Center website tells the story of Ohio teen Jessica Logan. One snap of a camera phone changed her life forever: that one image—meant only for her boyfriend at the time—would have deadly ramifications. Jessica’s parents said she took her own life in her bedroom after the racy photo was leaked around her school, and she had been harassed for months.
In the March 30, 2009 issue of People magazine the article “The Dangers of Sexting” tells of two young boys who shared a sext photo and wound up in trouble with the law. Fortunately for these two students, no charges were filed. But because of child pornography laws, anyone that takes and sends a nude photo of a minor can be charged.
In 2009, a CBS news report on the dangers of sexting said that anyone (minors included) possessing nude pictures of underage kids is violating the letter of the law. They can be charged with felonies and must register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.
Eric Higgs, a deputy sheriff in Effingham County, IL said that in his county and surrounding counties 40 percent of teens with cellphones have received at least one sexually explicit photo from another teen.
I have personally dealt with the devastation and fallout that comes from sexting. It’s not easy sitting with parents and talking about images that their little girls have sent out to boys. It’s not easy counseling these young women that for one reason or another sent these pictures to one person, and “somehow” they ended up all over the school.
Imagine the shame you would feel, if you knew that most of the people you see on a daily basis had seen intimate pictures of you. The embarrassment would be almost too much to take. These feelings can fade with time, but the harassment that takes place can affect a person long after the picture is forgotten. It manifests itself in a low self image. Some of the teen girls have sought out the comfort of another teen boy who will tell them they love them, only to find out the only thing that boy loved was the physical encounter that came from the comforting words. Then the cycle repeats itself.
In my decade of working with teens and their families, this is not an extreme but the norm. Sex, in any form, is powerful. The teen psyche is not equipped to handle the fallout and responsibility that comes from sexting.
Thankfully there has been push back from networks with large teen audiences, such as MTV, using their large platforms to warn teens about the dangers of sexting. Hopefully this will help. But the first line of defense takes place in the home. We must be aware of the problem and then have solutions to the problem.
Here are some tips from Commonsense.org:
- Don’t wait for an incident to happen to your child or your child’s friend before you talk about the consequences of sexting. Sure, talking about sex or dating with teens can be uncomfortable, but it’s better to have the talk before something happens.
- Remind your kids that once an image is sent, it can never be retrieved, and they will lose control of it. Ask teens how they would feel if their teachers, parents or the entire school saw the picture, because that happens all the time.
- Talk about pressures to send revealing photos. Let teens know that you understand how they can be pushed or dared into sending something. Tell them that no matter how big the social pressure is, the potential social humiliation can be hundreds of times worse.
- Teach your children that the buck stops with them. If someone sends them a photo, they should delete it immediately. It’s better to be part of the solution than the problem. Besides, if they do send it on, they’re distributing pornography—and that’s against the law.
- Check out ThatsNotCool.com. It’s a fabulous site that gives kids the language and support to take texting and cellphone power back into their own hands. It’s also a great resource for parents who are uncomfortable dealing directly with this issue.
Beyond just talking with your student there are ways to see if your student is caught up in sexting. Check your cell phone bills. If there a lot of data usage charges on your bill, it means there are some pictures being sent back and forth. Make sure you set limits on what times your teen is allowed to have the phone. Pick the phone up and look through it. If there are any sexually explicit pictures, delete them right away. And if you have to, there are resources online to help track and monitor what happens on your teen’s phone.
The world that I grew up in is vastly different than the world today. My children are and will face pressures once unheard of. Sexting is one such pressure.
As parents, we must be willing to do whatever it takes to guide our children to a point of mature adulthood. Doing so can and will lead to uncomfortable conversations and circumstances. I would encourage all parents to do a little digging on social media, both the positives and the negatives. Arm yourself with information and then use that information to help guide your child to responsibility.
Have you dealt with sexting? What advice would you give? The more conversation we have, the better we all become.