Sexting: A Digital Topic to Talk About with Your Teen

The following is from chapter 9 of Faith and the Modern Family...

What is sexting? Sexting is sending, receiving or forwarding sexually explicit content, usually between mobile phones, and it may be happening more frequently than you think––with severe consequences. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl.com found that 22 percent of girls ages 13–19, and 18 percent of boys ages 13–19 have sent or posted online nude or semi-nude images of themselves. (7)

When sending a sexually suggestive text without a picture, the number increases to 37 percent of girls and 40 percent of boys, with 48 percent of all teens between the ages of 13–19 saying they have received such a message. (8)

Most of the sexting between teens happens within the context of a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, with girls sending most of the suggestive images to their boyfriends. The consequences of sexting are compounded when the relationship dissolves and the boyfriend forwards the picture to his friends in an attempt to humiliate or embarrass the girl.

There are also legal consequences for sexting. Like the laws for cyberbullying, each state has its own laws for sexting, which are usually the same laws that were set up to prosecute pedophiles and people who distribute pornographic content of minors. Teens in some states, like Florida and Pennsylvania, have been prosecuted or threatened with prosecution on child pornography laws because they sent out nude images through text messages. (10)

Having frequent and open conversations with your child about sexting is imperative in our modern families. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children suggests discussing the following five points in order to prevent sexting.

Five Talking Points to Have With Your Teen About Sexting

1. Think about the consequences of taking, sending, or forwarding a sexual picture of yourself or someone else underage. You could get kicked off of sports teams, face humiliation, lose educational opportunities and even get in trouble with the law.

2. Never take images of yourself that you wouldn’t want everyone—your classmates, your teachers, your family or your employers—to see.

3. Before hitting send, remember that you cannot control where this image may travel. What you send to a boyfriend or girlfriend could easily end up with their friends, and their friends, and their friends.

4. If you forward a sexual picture of someone underage, you are as responsible for this image as the original sender. You could face child pornography charges, go to jail and have to register as a sex offender.

5. Report any nude pictures you receive on your cell phone to an adult you trust. Do not delete the message. Instead, get your parents or guardians, teachers and school counselors involved immediately. (12)

As a parent these talking points can be tough, embarrassing, awkward, and just plain weird. I know, I have had these conversations. However, the benefits far out way the consequences in not only having a conversation but a continual dialogue with your child about sexting.And, just in case you do find some inappropriate content on your child’s cell phone, here are four suggestions as you “have that open conversation with them.”

Question: Have you found ever found inappropriate content on your child’s cell phone? How did you respond?

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End Notes:

7. Sex and Tech: Results from a Survey of Teens and Young Adults, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 2008. http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/sextech/PDF/SexTech_Summary.pdf (accessed July 2013).

8. Ibid.

10. Deborah Feyerick and Sheila Steffen, “‘Sexting’ Lands Teens on Sex Offender List.” CNN, 2013. http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/04/07/sexting.busts (accessed July 2013).

12. Adapted from “Tips to Prevent Sexting,” National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: NetSmatz Workshop, 2009. http://www.doj.state.wi.us/sites/default/files/dci/icac/sexting-prevention.pdf (accessed January 2014).