Teen Angst

Helping adolescents deal with anger and other emotions effectively

Sexting and the Middle School Years

One in five middle school students have received a sext.

Are you a parent who has purchased or are you thinking about purchasing an electronic device for your teen? If so, this blog is for you. A study published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that 20 percent of students with text-capable cellular devices reported receiving a sext and 5 percent reported sending a sext. What is more alarming is that those who reported receiving a sext were six times more likely to report being sexually active, and those who reported sending a sext were four times more likely to report being sexually active.

So it seems that the middle school students who sent or received sext messages were more likely than their non-sexting peers to be sexually active. What's causing teens who sext to be more likely to engage in sexual activity? Is it that youth who are more sexually active are more apt to sext than their peer counterparts? Is it that youth who sext are more sexually curious and more apt to have sex? Regardless of the reason, we could probably agree that too many youth abuse and misuse electronic devices.

If only these devices came with clear warnings, like the one below:

"Warning: This device has the potential to take pictures of a sexually explicit nature. Within a matter of seconds those pictures can be disseminated to hundreds, thousands and even millions of people simultaneously. Once pictures are electronically shared it is "virtually" impossible to delete or destroy all traces of the photo. The owner should use caution when using this and other electronic devices. Electronic devices, such as this one has been linked to damaged online reputations. It also has the power to hurt and harm another human being."

Unfortunately too many teens have been tormented, treated poorly or exercised poor judgment when using their electronic devices. We as parents need to do a better job of teaching youth about proper use  versus technological abuse. By no means am I bashing the fact that teens use technology. In fact, I advocate for it. To prohibit their use of it would be like placing a caveman in the modern world. Technology is a large part of the teen culture and they need to use it to keep up with what's happening around them.

However I am advocating for teaching teens responsible use rather than turning them loose with these potentially life altering devices. Too often have I had conversations with teens who didn't realize the repercussions of their online behavior. I have also had many conversations with parents who  said that their teen was much more tech savvy than them. That maybe so, but is it because teens are more willing to experiment and try new things? Even if teens appear to have more knowledge, they lack one thing that their parents have: insight.

Parents, you have the ability to trouble shoot potential problems and to think through situations far better than your teen. You can help your teen think through sticky situations by asking him/her some simple "What would you do…?" questions. Many teens like for us to think they know more than we do. But that's not true. Parents, don't let your teen throw a fast one at you.

Another tip to consider–periodically monitor your child's devices. I once did a radio show with a Sherriff in Florida and she shared her stories of going into schools to do online safety courses for teens. One of the questions she asked was for students to voluntarily hand her their phone to do a random check. Guess how many freely offered their phone? If you guess zip, zilch, nada, then you hit the nail on the head. Just what are they hiding?

We as parents should learn how to use our teens’ electronic devices equally as well as them. Smartphone's are a great way to be connected, but they can also pose dangers to an impulsive teen. Just think: Possession of a sexually explicit photo of a minor can lead to serious legal ramifications. In some states possession of sexual images of minors could constitute child pornography; that is a felony. So, in light of this new study, and the dilemmas these devices can cause, it's important that we properly prepare youth to use and not abuse their devices.  

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

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