Sexting 101

The ramifications of sexting.

Posted Aug 25, 2011

Sexting behaviors are experiencing rampant growth among college students.  According to a study conducted by the University of Rhode Island, 4 out of 5 college kids have received sexually suggestive messages.  Out of the 204 participants, approximately 56 percent reported that they have received sexual images and 17 percent of those surveyed have forwarded those messages to others.

In Rhode Island, "minors who create and send sexually explicit images of themselves can be charged with a 'status offense' and referred to family court." To take it up a notch, "Minors and adults who possess or forward sexual images of anyone younger than 18 may be charged under the state's child pornography laws."  To put this in real terms, if your college freshman who just turned 19 is dating his underage high school sweetheart and they share some sexually graphic photos via cell, your 19 year old runs the risk of being charged under child pornography laws in this state.  Currently, at least 21 U.S. states have legislation related to sexting.

But college students aren't the only ones sexting.  Just recently there were about two dozen teenagers caught in a sexting ring in Vermont.  The 17 girls that were in the pictures were ages 14-17.  I would venture to say that none of the parents were aware that their daughters were taking risqué photos of themselves and sharing them with others.  Likewise, I bet the boy's parents weren't aware that they were sharing these photos with one another via shared email accounts.  Read more about this story here.

            So, what we may have is a bunch of invincible, immature teens, running around snapping and sharing nude photos of themselves and distributing them to boyfriends, girlfriends, and potential friends...  Let's not forget that most teen relationships don't last forever.  And when they end in a nasty break up, watch out for flying photos.  Many online reputations have been destroyed because of sexting. 

Even though your teen's brain may not be ready to make the soundest decisions, it doesn't mean that they can't learn from you.  Education and communication is the best way to prepare your teen for making wise choices.  For example, discussing sexting and its implications with your teen might make them think twice before pressing "send".  Think about it, if your teen has never driven a car, odds are you wouldn't put the keys in their hand and tell them to drive down the interstate.  No, you'd show them how to do it and then allow them to practice.  Same thing is true with social situations.  You can actually learn a lot from your teen by having "What if..." discussions.  These discussions will help your teen with problem solving situations as well as help them develop the skills they need to work through life dilemmas. 

Parenting Tips for the Tween/Young Teen:

1.  Have a chat with your teen about the repercussions of sexting and the adverse effect it can have on their life.  Make sure they know that a click of a button can lead to life altering consequences.

2.  The best way to engage a teen in a conversation about sexting is with open ended questions.  For example, "What is sexting?",  "Do you know anyone who has ever sexted before?", or "Do you know what can happen to those who get exposed for sexting?"  You'll get a lot more out of your teen if you ask a question that allows them to answer in their own words rather than "yes" or "no".

3.  Establish a cell phone safety contract outlining your rules and expectations for your teen's use of the phone.  Be sure to include what kinds of photos are not acceptable.  The earlier you do this the better. 

Technology Alert

Be on the lookout for some new technology that will allow you to censor the texts that your teen sends with sexual messages.  Apple's already got a patent on an anti-sexting device.

Parenting Advice for the Older Teen/College Student:

Talk to your son or daughter regarding the dangers of sexting.  At this age older teens are trying to emerge into young adulthood.  While they want to be viewed as more responsible and mature, they still need your guidance.  Have those open and honest conversations with your older teen about the pressures of relationships, making wise decisions, and being safe in the virtual world.  Don't try to pull the control card out on an older teen, as it may back fire.  If you want them to truly listen to your message, the last thing that you need to do is remind them that you're paying their college tuition and imply cutting them off if they don't abide by your rules.  This is also true in situations other than sexting.

Here's just one example of how to get this conversation started:

"Hey, Jon I just read this blog about sexting and about how many teens and college students are doing it."  Then follow up with some open-ended questions like "I am surprised, do you know anyone who's done it?" or "Does it happen a lot in your school or college?"  Be sure to discuss the dangers associated with sexting.  You could even get into many more issues like "Hooking Up" or "Friends with Benefits".  To some, these conversations may be uncomfortable. However, I have never heard, read, or even felt that being a parent is supposed to be comfortable.  In fact, it's the opposite.  Your role is to prepare your son or daughter for this world and if you're not going to broach the uncomfortable topics, who are you trusting will?

I don't see sexting disappearing anytime in the near future.  I do see it evolving to something else though.  Historically, teens have expressed themselves sexually through letters, cameras, camcorders, cells...  I mean, we came all the way from a letter to this???  Regardless of the avenue our young populations use to express themselves sexually, nothing replaces "good judgment".  Somewhere between a keypad and a click of a button, we've lost that.  The only way that we can get it back is to have those open, honest and frank conversations to help our children navigate through this new wave of technology.  So, I encourage you to be the one to tackle this subject with your tween/teen/college student.  If you don't, who will???