Photo by Gerry Knight

August 2, 2016

Devices, Pornography

What’s the Real Deal with Sexting?

You may have heard this term “sexting” in the news and on forums and websites for parents of teens. So what is “sexting,” really? Simply put, sexting is when one person sends a sexually explicit or suggestive message or photo to someone else via text message. While it seems to have become increasingly popular with teens, statistics suggest that plenty of adults are sexting, too. As a parent, if you think your teen might be sexting or you simply want to know how to encourage your child to stay safe online and over the phone, here are some of the plain and scare-free facts about sexting.

Photo by Gerry Knight

Photo by Gerry Knight

Sexting is Fairly Common

According to an article in Psychology Today, as many as 1 in 5 teens admits to having sent a sexually explicit photo to someone else at least once. But because this statistic doesn’t include data on the sending of sexually explicit messages, the number may actually be higher. In addition, an article in AARP claims that more and more adults are incorporating sexting into their romantic life.

What these numbers suggest is that the motivations for sexting come from a very normal place, so if you think your teen may be sexting, you can think of this as a pretty normal variation for the modern era on the normal development of the self, sexuality, and personal preference. Deciding whether or not he or she will participating in sexting has become one of the normal questions for a modern teen to consider as they start to develop into the adult they want to be.

Your Teen Needs Help Making Responsible Choices

Of course, the difference between an adult and a young adult or teen participating in this kind of activity is that an adult is likely more responsible and much more aware of the consequences of these kinds of actions. An adult is also less likely to decide to participate in this kind of activity because of peer pressure.

Though many teens may now think of sexting as part of the normal dating and flirting process, they aren’t really in a position to realize how much they put their privacy at risk when they send these kinds of messages. Whether or not you think your teen might be sexting, you should consider sitting them down to talk about the following risks inherent to the decision to send explicit content:

          –How well do you know the person you’re sending this to?

          While a teen may believe that they love the person they’re dating and that the person respects them completely, it’s impossible to ever really know what kinds of actions another person might take, especially when they are still young, impressionable, and subject to changes of opinion. Remind your teen that they should never send anything sensitive, no matter how old they are, to anyone they don’t completely know and trust.

         —What happens if you break up?

          Even if your teen feels they know their boyfriend or girlfriend very well, are they entirely sure that the other person would respect their privacy if they had a bad breakup? What if the other person has a friend who pressures him or her into showing off those intimate  pictures? What if that friend steals the pictures?

         —What if those pictures or messages made it into the wrong hands?

          What would you do if someone tried to blackmail or manipulate you with these messages or photos? What if they showed them to other people?

It’s also very important that teens understand that they should absolutely never send explicit content to people they don’t know. There have been very serious situations of online harassment, stalking, and cyber bullying that have resulted from a teen sending explicit content over the Internet to someone they didn’t know. One particularly famous case concerned teenager Amanda Todd who was stalked and harassed by a man to whom she sent explicit photos over the Internet. Todd was eventually driven to suicide and made it clear that the harassment had been a major factor in her depression.

Identifying Peer Pressure

According to the same article at DoSomething.org, of the girls who chose to participate in sexting, 12% report that they do so because of peer pressure. This may mean that they are sexting because a boyfriend or crush has made them feel as though they have to, because they’ve seen their friends do it and now consider it normal, or because it has been fairly normalized through the media following reports of celebrity sexting. Participating in sexting simply because of peer pressure can be dangerous to a teen’s sense of self and overall safety. When talking with your teen, make sure to discuss the risks of giving in to peer pressure in this way.

Some Things You Can Do

Of course, the first thing you should do if you are concerned about sexting is to talk to your child about the risks. When you do discuss it with them, make sure to assure them that you understand that their temptation to participate in sexting isn’t out of the ordinary, and that your primary concern is for their safety.

If you have more serious concerns about sexting or if your teen has gotten into trouble because of sexting in the past and you’re afraid they will repeat their mistake, you might want to consider getting some family monitoring software that will give you a better sense of how your teens are spending their time online or on their phones. With popular services like Rated 4 Kids, you have the option of actually monitoring the content of your teen’s messages, but if that feels too invasive for you, you can limit your monitoring to a regular report of where and how they are spending their time online. This way, if you see that they are spending 50% of their online time on a messenger app, for example, you can intervene if that high number concerns you.

The Internet age has meant a whole new view on what dating and development means for teens. As a parent, it’s up to you to help your kids navigate this sometimes confusing territory.