The tween and teen years are naturally full of social angst, especially with regard to boy-girl relationships. Today’s internet-mobile device way of communicating has increased the complexity of today’s teen relationships.
In previous generations notes were passed in the classroom to let a boy or girl know you like them. Today’s teens are being pressured to sext, by sending explicit sexual messages or nude or semi-nude pictures. Concern over losing a relationship by not complying and sending a requested “nude” image may propel a tween or teen into hitting the send button and down a road of long term regret.
Many tweens and teens have computers in their bedrooms with webcams, often unsupervised. They may unknowingly engage with an online predator, posing as a teen and send nude pictures or videos that are then recorded, which can lead to serious consequences.
- 20 percent of teens 13-19, more girls than boys, have sent a nude or semi nude picture or video of themselves via mobile device or posted online. However, according to a survey done in 2010, at Curtis Middle School in Sudbury, the number of kids that sexted was substantially lower at 4 percent for all 6th, 7th and 8th grades with 6th grade being lowest at 1 percent, 7th being 1.5 percent and 8th grade being substantially higher at 10 percent.)
- 39 percent of teens are sending or posting sexually suggestive messages, more boys than girls.
- 48 percent of teens say they have received sexually suggestive messages either online or mobile device.
- 71 percent girls and 67 percent boys in their teens send these pictures or messages to boyfriends or girlfriends.
- 36 percent of teens say that it is common for pictures to get shared with someone other than the intended recipient and 44% say it is common for messages to get shared with others.
- 73 percent of teens say they know that sending sexually suggestive content “can have serious negative consequences,” yet 23 percent also think it’s harmless.
Why do Teens Sext
The majority of teens sext because they think it’s a “fun and flirtatious activity.” Many teens are feeling pressured by either boyfriends/girlfriends to sext. Many girls send nude pictures as a “sexy present” to their boyfriends. Sometimes “these images are shared as a part of or instead of sexual activity, or as a way of starting or maintaining a relationship with a significant other,” according to Amanda Lenhart of Pew Research. More than a third of teens say they exchange sexually suggestive images or messages with the expectation of dating or hooking up.
Consequences of Sexting
Unfortunaely, the internet is not private and anything posted is like standing on a world stage for anyone to see. Once that send button is pushed anyone may be able to see that picture or message. A teen may think their picture is private and is just for their boyfriend and girlfriend to see, but it rarely is. Almost half of teens say that it’s common for messages to get shared with someone other than the intended recipient. The real damage of sexting is when sexually suggestive messages thought to be private are shared and potentially spread around the internet for all to see. That’s when reputations are destroyed. By hitting that send button, a teen may have huge regrets when they discover they’ve lost control of that the image or message. Once it’s sent and passed on, there is no going back, no take backs, no redos. Teens need to be taught that if even one person passes along that message or picture, it’s very likely that person will pass it along too and so on.
The number of texts being sent averages to be about 60 a day according to a recent Pew report. With so many messages being sent, tweens/teens often don’t take the time to think about what the consequences may be of sending that message or image. Teens as compared to adults are impulsive by nature resulting in lack of self control and "not thinking through actions" due to their incomplete brain development and lack of maturity. They are after all kids and not miniature adults.
Once an image is spread around the consequences can be severe leading to name calling, public ridicule, cyberbullying and even suicide. In July 2008, Cincinnati teen Jesse Logan committed suicide after a nude photo she’d sent to a boyfriend was circulated widely around her high school, resulting in harassment from her classmates.
Sexting is a Crime
It’s considered a violation of child pornography laws or felony obscenity. The law prohibits creation, possession and transmission of child pornography by any “person.” including minors. Some teens have been arrested, fortunately, “most law enforcement officials are handling these sexting cases in a thoughtful way and not treating teens like sex offenders and child pornographers,” said Janis Wolak, J.D.
Sexting Affects Your Reputation
A tween/teen’s reputation both online and off is precious. Once a teen’s reputation has been tarnished by sexting it can be impossible to repair. Thinking about the consequences of sexting is crucial to protecting a teen’s reputation. Colleges, employers, coaches, scholarship providers are all checking the internet and social media to find out more about a student or potential employee. It’s important for kids to understand this before they hit the send button so that they don’t destroy their futures.
Another growing concern is sextortion, the use of nude photos to elicit more photos or sexual contact. Many teens are alone in their bedrooms with webcams and may not be fully aware of who they’re engaged with online. Predators posing as teens online may solicit nude photos or videos from unsuspecting kids. A tween or teen girl may think they’re sending sexts to a male friend but instead are sending the image to an imposter, a predator posing as a teen. Kids are often unaware that these videos or photos are recorded. Once a naked image is sent, the predator then demands more images and threatens the victim if they refuse.
This recently happened to a 13-year-old girl from Massachusetts.
“The girl thought she was corresponding on Facebook with a young man and sent him a naked picture; it was actually a 35-year-old man named Jonathan Murphy. He threatened the girl that he would come to the U.S. if she didn’t send him more pictures.”
Another international sextortion case recently solved by the FBI involved many adolescent girls in which two men "hacked into their computers and then turned on their webcams to get video of them naked. Once the men had the images, they extorted their victims to get them to provide more photos and videos of themselves." The potential damage down the road can be severe when these images are disseminated - both emotionally and to their reputations.
What Can Parents Do?
- Talk to your tween/teen about sexting. Educate them about the legal consequences of sexting and potential damage to their reputation and emotional well being.
- Teach your tween/teen that the internet is not private and to think before they hit the send button. Remind your kids that once an image is sent, it can’t be deleted or removed from the online world. Pose that scenario to themc… do they want their friends, classmates, teachers, parents and relatives seeing a naked or semi-naked picture of them?
- Talk to your teens about peer pressure and saying “no” even when it seems “uncool.” Let them know that the humiliation and potential damage to their reputation will be far worse if they lose control of a sext. What if their boyfriend breaks up with them? Would that boyfriend then send that image that was a “sex present” to others?
- Teach your tween/teen that if they receive a sext delete it. If they send the image to other friends this can be considered distribution of pornography, which is illegal. They can also really harm another person’s reputation. Do they want that on their conscience?
- Teach your kids to only chat with people they know in the offline world. Teach them that predators often try to engage with kids on social networking sites and in chatrooms and may pose as a teenager.
- E-Mentor and monitor your child's computer and webcam use to see how they're behaving online, so that you can teach them safe, appropriate online behavior.
- Remember that when your kids know you're checking on their online behavior, they are less likely to engage in risky behavior.
- Get to know the language that kids use online such as, GNOC-Get Naked On Camera.
- If your child is the victim of sextortion, contact your local Internet Crime Against Children task force at your local police or state police department.