Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What is Sexting?

Q: I heard on the news that teens are heavily involved in sexting. What does that mean?

A: The term sexting is defined by Wikipedia as, “the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photos electronically, primarily between cell phones.” According to a recent survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 20 percent of all teens have sent or posted nude pictures or videos of themselves. If that statistic isn’t alarming enough, 1 out of 3 teens have received such pictures on their cell phone. There are a number of legal, emotional and sexual implications related to sexting.

The legal ramifications in some cases across the U.S. have been high. A number of teens have been charged with child pornography due to the inappropriate material found on their phones. It is possible they could face prosecution for obscenity. In October a teenage boy in Texas spent the night in juvenile detention after his coach found nude pictures on his phone sent to him by a classmate. Most recently, three Pennsylvania adolescent males were charged with child pornography for having inappropriate pictures on their cell phones of three younger girls. Many adolescents do not understand the long-term consequences of sexting. It is important to educate teens on this matter. Even if you believe your child will not be involved in this behavior, knowledge of the ramifications could allow your teen to prevent a peer from making a costly mistake. Make sure your teen realizes the high cost of possibly being a registered sex offender before they are even an adult.

Emotionally, teens often do not understand the implications for hitting send on a text with a nude or semi-nude picture. It seems that they are sending the picture to one individual boyfriend or girlfriend. However, the trend seems to be that the couple breaks up and the picture may be forwarded to others and can easily end up on Facebook or MySpace available for anyone to view. The pictures end up in countless places the individual never intended nor thought possible. The ridicule from friends including name calling can be devastating and the teen may lose his/her reputation and relationships close to him/her.

Certainly the sexual concerns are great for adolescents. Teenage girls report that pressure from a guy causes them to send the picture. Once the picture is sent and numerous teen boys in her high school see the picture she may be viewed as an object or as someone who is available as a sexual partner. It is vital that the church and parents educate their children on healthy sexuality. Often this topic is difficult to talk about, but the more that healthy discussions occur, the greater potential there is for healthy relationships. It is best to have these conversations prior to adolescence, as teenagers are many times genuinely embarrassed to have these candid conversation with their parents. The idea of a one-time “birds and the bees” conversation is probably obsolete (and it may not have been a very good idea, even in the “good old days”). Parents of teens may benefit from reading excerpts from “Soul Virgins” by Doug Rosenau and Michael Todd Wilson, which can be a healthy approach to sexuality for the teens and single years.

One of the primary responsibilities of the parent of a teenager is to keep their child safe and to protect them from those who do not have their best interest at heart. Therefore, if you discover that your child has been using their cell phone inappropriately, it is a great opportunity to correct your child through the use of natural and logical consequences. A cellular phone is a privilege. Most current parents did not have cell phones when they were teenagers, and we all lived to tell about it. Your teenager will suffer no significant long-term negative consequences for having their cell phone privileges revoked. If your teenager misuses their cell phone, that is a great opportunity to have a conversation with them about the importance of not abusing or misusing privileges and it is an opportunity for them to learn that if they misuse a privilege they may lose that privilege. If the offense is small (too many text messages in a billing cycle), the privilege may be revoked for a few weeks (or until they pay you for the extra expense of the text overage). If the offense is greater (sexting or cyber-bullying), then the revocation may be for a much longer time (several weeks, months, or even permanent revocation).

If you believe your teen is sexting and would like some help in knowing how to deal with this, email us or give us a call: pathways@abchome.org or 1-866-991-6864. We will be happy to answer any questions you might have.

For a recent story about the consequences of sexting click here: Cell Phone Picture Ruins Girl's Life

*This column is not intended to substitute for an actual session with a licensed counselor.


If you have a question you would like to ask, EMAIL US: askanne@abchome.org or leave a comment. We would love to answer one of your questions.

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