Perhaps when you were in school, kids passed flirtatious or even racy notes to people they liked. Sometimes those notes got dropped on the floor or confiscated by the teacher and, before long, everyone was gossiping between classes about what was supposed to be a private message. Now add a cell phone with a camera and Internet access to that scene. Suddenly, the scene is set for sexting which is the newly minted word for sending or posting nude or semi-nude photos, videos and messages.
While parents have been preoccupied with predators who might seduce their children online, a surprising number of teens have been volunteering to send sexual pictures of themselves to their friends. Surveys have found that 22% of teenage girls and 18% of boys had sent such pictures. Even more (40% of the boys and 37% of the girls) said they had sent or posted sexually suggestive text messages.
It is important to understand that sending sexy pictures does not necessarily mean teens are having more sex. Statistics have indicated that more than half of all teens delay their first sexual encounter until after high school, a significant increase from ten years ago. Of the teens who do send provocative pictures, most share them with a boyfriend or a girlfriend on the often mistaken assumption that they will stay private. Some teens who are sexting think of nude pictures as a special present; others send them as a joke. Only a small minority (approximately15%) say they have sent risqué photos to someone they did not know in real life.
It is interesting to note that despite their claim that these photos and messages are simply for “fun”, three quarters of the teens surveyed think sending provocative content “can have serious negative consequences. ” Half of the teens agree that it’s common for such material to be seen by people other than the intended recipient; a third of the boys and a quarter of the girls have looked at photos that were not intended to be shared. It should be understood that often such pictures make the rounds after a break-up when one half of a young couple wants to embarrass the other.
There are many questions attached to sexting and some of them are still in the process of being answered at least legally. Some of the questions are:
· Are these pictures homemade pornography? Or are they simply the inevitable result of high tech meeting adolescent curiosity about sex?
· Is distributing the pictures criminal behavior, bullying with a sexual dimension or teen foolishness?
Experts (and parents) answer those questions in different ways. No matter how you personally feel about this new development in adolescent courtship, there are some things you should discuss with your teen. Some of these are:
· Legal Matters. The reality of the situation is that sending naked pictures of a minor (anyone under eighteen in most states) fits the legal description of distributing child pornography. This is true whether the person sending the pictures is the classic dirty old man or a classmate playing a prank or someone who has been dumped and wants revenge. The penalties vary but a child or teen that posts or forwards such pictures to friends risks being charged with a misdemeanor or even a felony. In the worst case scenario, a teen could be added to a state list of Registered Sex Offenders which will have lifelong consequences.
· Self Image-Adults need to understand that today’s adolescents have grown up in a culture that is permeated with sexual images. It is crucial to talk to your teen about the difference between being attractive and being provocative. While one is perfectly acceptable in public; the other should be reserved for private. Then constantly remind your child that digital photos are never private once they have been forwarded or posted.