Teen Angst

Helping adolescents deal with anger and other emotions effectively

The Dangers of Teen Sexting

Sexting a problem with major consequences

Engaging in sexting is a dangerous activity for teens! It can have adverse side effects and the consequences can be life-long. New research shows that approximately 20-30 percent of teens have sent and/or received a sext. Plus, according to research those teens who are sexting or propositioned to send a sext are more likely than their peers to have sexual intercourse. So, just what is sexting, who's doing it, why are they doing it, and what are the consequences? I'll attempt to answers those questions and more in this blog, "The Dangers of Teen Sexting."

What is sexting?
Sexting is sending, receiving, or forwarding sexual photos or sexually suggestive messages through text message or email. While the term "Sext" has been around since about 2005, the idea of exchanging or recording sexual material isn't a new concept. Historically sexual material has been distributed by means of: drawings, photographs, and videos. Then along came the internet through which electronic devices and social media outlets have changed the game of sexual exchanges. These modern technology advances have made sexual exchanges much easier and more powerful than ever before. With a click of a button a picture can be distributed to many people instantaneously—and once it's out there, there's no going back.

Recent Research
Just recently there has been some interesting research released on teen sexting:

The first is from the University of Utah’s Department of Psychology. Researchers surveyed 606 teens ages 14-18 and found that approximately 20 percent of the teens said they had sent a sexual image of themselves via cell phone. About twice as many teens admitted to receiving a sext. To top it off, of those who reported receiving a sext, well over 25 percent said that they had forwarded it to someone else. So, they're sharing the pics with their friends.

Sadly a third of the teens stated that they didn't think about the legal ramifications or consequences of their actions. And this may come as no surprise, teens who engaged in sexting were more likely than others to find the activity acceptable. They had "justified" their behavior to the point that they didn't view it as wrong. That's scary.
This study can be found at:
http://www.springerlink.com/content/b8657mwj0268j307/?MUD=MP

The second study was published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine. Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch found teens who "sext" may be more likely to engage in sexual behaviors. Here are some of the findings:

  • 28% of teens admitted to having sent a sext.
  • 76.2% of teens who were propositioned to sext admitted to having had sexual intercourse.
  • Girls were asked to send a sext (68%) more often than boys (42%).
  • The peak age of sexting is around 16 and 17 years of age.
  • Sexting seems to decline in individuals 18 and older.

This study can be found at:
http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1212181

Why are they doing it?
They may be curious...
Sex creates curiosity, which leads to exploration and experimentation—especially with teens. This is not a new thing and it's completely normal. Teens may be curious as to what others look like naked and also easily aroused by nudity.

They may be pressured...
Peer pressure to participate in sex could be another reason teens are succumbing to sending racy pics of themselves.

Think about it:
If you're a guy and your friends all have sexual photos of girls on their phones, you may feel pressured to do the same; especially if your "guy" friends single you out if you don't.

On the flip side, if you’re a girl and other girls are boasting about sending pictures to their boyfriends you may feel you need to do the same; especially if you feel like "everyone else is doing it."

They may be in love...
Remember your first love? To the love-stricken teen it's easy to cave to the pressure when you think "this is the one." You believe with all of your heart this is the person you're destined to be with for eternity. Dramatic, yeah, but remember those teen years? To you this person is trustworthy and you would do anything, and I mean anything, for them. To the teen who's in need of this type of attention or in need of love and acceptance, he/she may give in and do something he'll/she'll later regret.

They may not be thinking...
There's a special part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex (aka the CEO of the brain) that is responsible for problem solving, impulse control, and weighing out options. Unfortunately for teens, this area of the brain is not fully developed. In fact, it doesn't fully mature until the early to mid-twenties. So, while we expect our teens to know better, the fact is there are some physiological reasons teens think they're invincible.

What are the emotional and legal consequences? 

Emotionally

Emotionally sexting can take a toll on a person, especially if it backfires and gets into the wrong hands. Teens have a unique ability to feel like they're invincible. So, even though they may know that sexting is wrong, they don't think they're going to get caught.

Another emotional catch is that sexting may lead to bullying for the teen whose photos have been solicited to others. This creates a harsh world for a teen to live. Oftentimes they don't reach out for help because of embarrassment and disappointment, fear of making it worse, or fear of getting into trouble. To many teens they may feel like they're caught in a trap with no way out.

Also, sexting can compromise reputations. Not just social reputations but digital reputations can take a hit. Once a photo is out, there's no way of knowing how many people have saved it, tagged it, shared it, etc. Unfortunately the photo could re-surface years after it was taken and posted. Plus, more and more college reps and prospective employers are seeking information about candidates and they're doing this online. What they find online could sway their decision about whether or not the person lands the job or gets accepted into the school of his/her dreams.

Legally

Sadly, laws lag behind technology... but here is the good news: In 2011, 21 U.S. states passed legislation related to sexting. In 2012, at least 13 states so far are considering bills or resolutions aimed at "sexting".

Know the sexting laws in your state:
http://im.about.com/od/sexting/United_States_Sexting_Laws.htm
www.ncsl.org/issues-research/telecom/sexting-legislation-2012.aspx

Check out 'Sexting' trend highlights need for laws to catch up with technology a CNN Radio interview by Barbara Hall.

How do you protect your teen?

It's important that parents spend time speaking with their teens about sex. Young people need to know that it's okay to have desires and feelings. Talk to your teens about the impact and consequences of acting out sexual desires and how they can stay true to their morals, values and beliefs when faced with adversity. Also, discuss the consequences of acting out sexually (pregnancy, STDs, etc.). Please don't treat sex as a taboo topic in your household; rather, create a safe environment for your teen to ask questions and have an open dialogue. Awkward? Yeah at first it may feel awkward to you and your teen to discuss sex, but don't let that keep you from having the discussion. The more you talk, the easier it'll become and the weirdness will begin to wear off.

It is important that parents are in the loop with what their teens are doing with technology. So many things have Wi-Fi Access nowadays. Devices such as personal computers, video game consoles, hand held gaming devices, Smartphone's, tablets, e-readers and even digital audio players can connect to a network and create an opportunity for a teen to make a poor decision. Technology has pros and cons. Unfortunately, some of the cons carry some hefty consequences.  

In conclusion, with 20-30 percent of today’s teens sexting it is important that we educate our teens on the dangers associated with it. On the brighter side, we still have about 70-80 percent of teens making good decisions when it comes to sexting. In my experience as a counselor one of the things that I love to hear from a teen is "I have a good relationship with my parents." or "I can tell my mom/ dad anything." That’s an awesome statement to hear from a teen. Parents, please reach out to your teens and create an environment that allows them to let you into their life...

Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, M.S., L.P.C., is the author of The Anger Workbook for Teens.

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