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Teens & “Sexting”

I discussed teens & cell phones (particularly texting addiction) in my previous post. A new problem that has arisen in recent years is teens engaging in “sexting.” This means that teens are sending each other sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves or other teens via their cell phones. A recent survey indicated that about 20% of teens have engaged in sexting. Yikes!

As a parent, of course, it is beyond disconcerting to think that your teen might get involved in this. Adults can think of all of the repercussions – which is why we get so worried about it – whereas teens typically do not fully think through the consequences of their actions.
In a way, sexting is not at all surprising. When you combine the impulsivity of teens, raging hormones, the ubiquity of cell phones, the ease of taking & sending digital photos, and (sometimes) alcohol, you get – voilasexting.
A few suggestions on how parents can address sexting with their teens:

1. Again, don’t judge. If you were a teen nowadays, chances are either you would be sexting, be tempted to do it, and/or would know many friends who engage in it.

2. Because our frontal lobes (which help us to plan, think about future consequences, etc.) are not fully developed until the mid-20s, teens are not going to be able to foresee the consequences of sexting. You will need to sit down and have a frank discussion with your teen about the ramifications of sexting.

3. The most obvious consequence of sexting is that once this image is sent, it can spread all over the school, the Internet, and be around forever. It might start out as just some flirtatious behavior between guys and girls, but once it gets sent out, chances are that it will be spread to the ends of the earth. A teen who believes that the recipient of the image will keep it secret (he promised he would!) are sadly mistaken.

4. The legal system is still trying to figure out how to handle sexting, but it can get pretty ugly. Teens who send/receive nude/semi-nude photos and videos on their cell phones can be prosecuted for possession of child pornography. Thus, a 16-year-old boy who has a topless photo of his 16-year-old girlfriend on his cell phone (that she sent willingly) can be tried and convicted for possession of child pornography. This teen then could be imprisoned and forever be a registered sex offender. This is already happening.

5. As I said in the previous post, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You should talk to your teen about sexting before it ever could become a problem. You should try to get input from your teen about sexting and try to help your teen see the dangers, rather than just handing them the Ten Commandments. This will help your teen learn how to think critically. A teen should know the consequences (from both global and parental levels) prior any temptation/opportunities to engage in sexting.

6. If a teen is crossing the line, the consequences (that were discussed prior to their being a problem) should be imposed. These should be fair – the punishment should fit the crime. Natural consequences, such as a loss or severe restriction of cell phone privileges, might prove effective. Also, you might have to inform your teen that you will periodically and randomly check their cell phone for nude images if you have reason to believe that this is a problem.

By keeping an open and honest dialogue about the dangers and problems cell phones bring, parents can help prevent disastrous outcomes. Personally, I think the biggest danger of cell phone use is driving and talking (or texting). In this, parents are often just as guilty as teens. So, it’s important to serve as a good role model to teens for responsible cell phone use. Your words have much more influence on your teen when you are on good terms with your teen and you model the behaviors that you want to see in your teen. Not that you would have such images on your cell phone, but you know what I mean! 🙂

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