Last month, parents in Cañon City, Colorado were shocked to learn that hundreds of students were being investigated for taking, possessing, or sharing nude photographs of themselves or a classmate, also known as sexting (sending sexually-explicit pictures via text, e-mail, or other apps). The potential consequences for these students include child pornography charges and having to register as a sex offender. While Illinois has reformed its laws regarding minors and sexting, teenagers under 18 can still have serious charges brought against them for sexting.
Data on Teen Sexting
A 2008 survey of teens and young adults by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that 20% of teens have sent nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves (22% of girls, 18% of boys). The most common reason for sexting for 66% of teen girls and 60% of teen boys was to be “fun or flirtatious.” Teen girls listed other reasons for sexting as well:
- As a “sexy present” for their boyfriend (52%)
- In response to receiving a sexually-explicit text, photo, or video (44%)
- As “a joke” (40%)
- To “feel sexy” (34%)
- Because they felt pressured to do so (12%)
Once sent, those sexts don’t always stay with their intended recipient. The 2008 survey found that 38% of teen girls and 39% of teen boys have had sexually suggestive text messages or e-mails originally meant for someone else shared with them. Nude or semi-nude photos originally meant for someone else were shared with 25% of teen girls and 33% of teen boys.
Resources for Parents
There is plenty of research showing that teenage brains are not fully developed and that teenagers don’t always think through the consequences of their actions. As parents, it is important that we help our children understand the risks and consequences of sexting. Fortunately there are numerous resources available to help you have that conversation with your child.
- ConnectSafely.org provides a tip sheet for parents on how to talk to your teenager about sexting and what to do if you find out your child has been sending or receiving sexts. They also provide parent guides to mobile phones in English and Spanish as well as a guide to Snapchat (English only).
- Place the conversation about sexting in the context of general mobile phone usage by having The Smart Talk with your child. This website, a partnership of National PTA and LifeLock, walks you and your child through a series of questions and issues to discuss regarding mobile phone usage, and the answers you provide from those discussions can then be printed out or saved as a set of ground rules for your child to follow.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics also provides a list of tips for talking with your child about social media and sexting.