When we were growing up and starting to become interested in the opposite sex, we passed notes to each other in class or spent time on the wired phone which was often within earshot of Mom. Enter the internet age for the current generation of tweens and teens and now we have sexting! Today, thirty percent of kids are sending explicit sexual messages or nude or semi-nude pictures via mobile device or computer and many think it’s a normal part of teen life. Some believe that it’s “indicative of a higher social status,” according to an LG Mobile Phone survey.
Kids may not think about the consequences of sexting. To be fair, some adults don’t either as we saw with U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner, dubbed Weinergate. As happened with Weiner, images can go viral quickly and easily. Reputations and careers can be destroyed when a sexting image becomes public.
1. Sexting is Likely to Lead to Sex
Sexting should be very concerning for parents as recent studies reveal that those who have sexted are seven times more likely to engage in sexual relations. Other risks revealed in the study are that girls who participate in "sexting" are more likely to have unprotected sex, have multiple sexual partners and use alcohol or drugs prior to sexual intercourse. As we all know, unprotected sex can lead to pregnancy and STDs, and I don’t need to tell you about the serious consequences of teens having babies. Unfortunately, many girls, 51 percent, are feeling pressured to sext as compared to 18 percent of boys.
2. The Internet is Not Private
Unlike a personal diary that stays in the bedroom, the internet is not private. Everything that is posted online, whether it’s a comment, picture or video stays in cyberspace forever. A permanent digital footprint is created. There are no take-backs, no redos once content is uploaded on the internet. Colleges, employers, scholarship providers and athletic coaches are all reviewing a potential candidate for their online digital footprint prior to admission, and employment. Teens need to think about how they are representing themselves online and what kind of online reputation they are creating. In essence they are creating a personal brand with each online post.
In addition, sexting can lead to bullying when sext messages are distributed to the student body through mass texting. The person that sexted may think that the image will only be seen by their boyfriend or girlfriend, but that’s often not the case. 36 percent of teens say that it is common for pictures to get shared with someone other than the intended recipient. It can be forwarded to others, including unwitting recipients in seconds. Once an image is out in cyberspace, control of the image is lost.
3. Sexting is Illegal
Teens can be criminally prosecuted for child pornography offenses. Many states have sexting laws which can result in felony charges including creation, possession and distribution of child pornography and the exploitation of minors. Those found guilty may be placed in a sex offender registry. The stigma associated with being placed in a sex offender registry can haunt these kids for the rest of their lives.
What Parents Can Do:
- Talk to your teen about the risks and consequences of sexting, legally, emotionally, and physically. If what they post doesn’t meet the “grandma can see it” bench mark than they shouldn’t post it.
- Teach your teen to stop and think before they sext and hit the send button as sexting can lead to long term and life changing regret, especially if it goes viral.
- Teach your kids that sexting is not “normal” teen behavior.
- Teach your teens about resisting pressure to do anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.