As you may have seen in the media recently, the practice of ‘sexting’, which involves the sending of nude and sexually explicit images via mobile telephone, has become a common practice among teens; however, parent and teens are often unaware of the long-term social, mental and legal consequences of this behaviour. It is an issue that we can’t ignore, which is why our College Psychologist Ms Jody Sims has kindly put together a blog post to inform parents about the topic.
What is it?
Sexting is using the internet or a mobile phone for creating, sharing, sending or posting sexually explicit messages or images. Sexting can have long-term consequences for teens and adults.
Prevalence of sexting in teens
A study published in JAMA Pediatrics in 2018 showed that sexting has become more common among adolescents. This researcher examined the data on 39 previously published studies. Participants ranged in age from 12 to 17 years old. Results of their review indicated the following:
- At least 25% of teens are receiving sexually explicit texts and emails
- At least 15% are sending sexts
- More than 1 in 10 teens are forwarding sexts without consent
- About 1 in 12 teens have had sexts they’ve sent forwarded without their consent
Why do teens do it?
Teens are naturally risk takers and are often unaware of the consequences of their actions. Teens report that they often get involved in sexting due to peer pressure from friends or members of the opposite sex. For some teens it has also become part of normal behavior, and is seen as a way of flirting, getting attention, or being popular.
What are the consequences of sexting?
Sexting can have long term consequences for teens. Firstly, once photos or videos are sent to another person, even one they trust, the individual loses control of who can view and share that image. Many teens have been put in a compromising position when a supposedly private photo has been shared with other people, and subsequently becomes impossible to erase from the internet.
Secondly, teens caught sending or sharing explicit photos can be charged and potentially registered as a sex offender if they create, receive or transmit a sexualised image or video of a person under 18 even if it is consensual. This can have long-term consequences for teens, and can impact on their ability to get a job and to travel overseas.
Thirdly, Teens who have sent photos can have long term consequences for their mental health especially if the photos are shared with other people in their peer group. An image uploaded to the internet is very difficult to remove and control. Teens who share photos with other teens can be subject to bullying and humiliation that can cause anxiety and depression.
What can parents to do to support teens?
- Talk to your teens about the dangers of sexting. Let them know that it can have long-term consequences as it is very difficult to remove an image once it is part of your digital footprint. One picture sent to a crush's phone easily can be forwarded to friends, posted online, or printed and distributed. An image sent to a boyfriend or girlfriend could lead to problems if someone else sees it or if it distributed after a break-up.
- Talk openly about personal responsibility, personal boundaries, and how to resist peer pressure. Conversations like this should happen often — not just when problems arise.
- Explain, early and often, that a sent image or message can't be taken back – it is permanently part of your digital footprint. It can, and likely will, spread to others who weren't meant to see it. Discuss with teens the possible long-term consequences of sexting both legally and in terms of their future careers. Teach your teen to follow the "WWGT" ("What would grandma think?") rule. If grandma shouldn't see it, they shouldn't send it.
- Finally, make it clear that there will be consequences if your kids are caught sexting. Be ready to take away devices or set limits to when and how they can use them. Although It is important to support our teens when they make mistakes such as sexting, it is also important to set boundaries to help them learn but also to protect them from making risky choices.
References and sources
For further information and advice