Sexting has become a regular occurrence among teens. According to child and adolescent psychiatrist, Justin J. Schleifer, MD, teenagers say that 90% of their peers are sexting. But are they aware of the severity of involving themselves in sexting? Or that every state handles it differently from a legal standpoint? (Keep reading to see the sexting laws in your state!)
In case you aren't sure what classifies as sexting, it's the act of sending a sexually explicit image or message with mobile devices, over text, or through direct messages on social media platforms. Teens might think that it's all fun and games at the moment, but once they send a nude photograph out, there's no going back and the negative consequences can be immediate and long-term consequences.
Oftentimes, parents don't include this as a part of the sex talk and don't know what's happening on their teen's phone. Or, when parents talk to their kids about child pornography or sending nudes, they simply tell their child not to get involved. But with 25% of young people engaging in it, maybe it's time we take a different approach in order to better protect our kids and keep them from sending revealing photos.
You can start by keeping your child informed and talking with them about the different forms of sexting, how they can be in trouble even if the photo isn't of them, and what the negative consequences would be if they were to get caught. It's crucial that parents teach their kids the potential repercussions of sexting (and what it really means) before they find out the hard way! For some insight on what you should know and what this conversation could look like, read on.
A big reason teens find themselves partaking in teen sexting is peer pressure. Maybe their friends have sent nude photos before or maybe they see it as some right of passage, glamorized by celebrities who increase their Instagram following by 100,000 every time a nude photo is leaked. Maybe their 15-year-old boyfriend of 2 months (who clearly knows best) is sending them unsolicited pictures and they feel pressured to send some in return. If this is the case, know that this is considered teen dating violence and should be handled immediately.
Not to mention, mobile devices have made it easier than ever to send nude photos with the click of a button. With apps like Snapchat and the disappearing message feature in Instagram, teens feel more inclined to send provocative content because they think, "it goes away after 5 seconds" or "I would know if they screen-shotted it". They neglect the fact that even if they only meant for that one person to see it, once they press send it's out of their control.
Whether they're motivated by peer pressure or are unaware of the serious consequences, their motive overpowers any fear of legal punishment or thought of future regret.
In case you weren't aware, it's illegal for kids to be involved in sexting. What many parents and teens often forget when it comes to teen sexting is that they are in the possession and/or distributing child pornography. The legal consequences of child pornography vary state-by-state as some have laws in place specifically for minors while others charge minors and adults the same.
Now, what many teens are unaware of is the severity of some of these consequences, especially in states without minor specific laws. They can range anywhere from community service to jail time to being registered as a sexual offender. This goes for sending OR receiving sexual content of a minor. In order to protect children in these situations, it's necessary that you understand what they're up against.
Part of the reason teens are careless when it comes to sending or receiving nudes is that they neglect the possibility of it affecting their emotional wellbeing. They think that if they're careful and don't get caught legally, they won't regret their decision to trust another child with this content. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. Engaging in sexting can have a lasting effect on their mental health.
After sending promiscuous messages, they might spend days, weeks, months, or years stressing about the fact that this person has the ability to leak these pictures online or send them around to other teens. This is usually the case with teens who experience a break-up with someone they previously sent these types of messages to. Now that they are no longer in that relationship, they might fear that this person will engage in revenge porn which is when someone sends sexually suggestive content around without consent out of spite, anger, or jealousy.
Another emotional consequence they may experience is bullying. In the case their sexting incident is being sent around or talked about, they may be teased or harassed by friends and school peers. Their self-confidence could take a hit if there is mention of how their body looked or other physical features. This reputation could follow them for years, affecting how others perceive them and how they begin to perceive themselves.
Unfortunately, studies have shown that in these situations, teen girls are generally held to a different standard when it comes to engaging in inappropriate things. When it comes to teen girls, their reasons for participating in sexting are as a joke, to feel sexy, and because they feel pressured.
Afterward, they often experience something called slut-shaming where they're ridiculed for their physical appearance, how they dress, and their presumed level of sexual activity. If you are a parent to a teen girl, it's increasingly important that you talk with your child about the severity of teen sexting.
Whether they become stressed about having their photos and messages leaked or are being victimized by others for it, their emotional wellbeing will likely be impacted. They could develop anxiety, depression, body image issues leading to eating disorders, or post-traumatic stress disorder. They may struggle with their confidence and self-esteem if others make comments about how their body looked or other physical features.
And lastly, a negative emotional impact it can have on teenagers is the lasting fear that a picture or message is out there forever, and future colleges or employers may find them. The way we present ourselves online has become a huge factor when applying for colleges and jobs.
During the application process, the organizations are likely scanning the internet and reviewing all social media accounts looking for any legal issues that may influence their decision. If these images are for some reason leaked, it's likely they will come across them and it can affect your chances of getting accepted or receiving the offer.
Sitting down and having this kind of sex talk with your child is a great start. Talking with them will allow you to lay the groundwork for their understanding of sexting, how they can protect themselves from it, and what to do if they become involved.
Start by asking your child if they even know what sexting is. Starting the conversation by asking them what they know about the topic is helpful in navigating the conversation. Have they heard about it from movies or tv shows? Do they have friends that have talked about it with their parents? Do they know of other teens that have engaged in it?
You are the trusted adult in their life. Make sure they know that you are always open to talking about these types of situations and you want them to feel comfortable asking you questions. The more open and honest these conversations are, the more frequently you can have them and the more productive they can be. It will also encourage them to feel less awkward when talking about their sexuality.
Teach your teen to set healthy boundaries with others, especially if they are dipping into romantic relationships. Remind them that always have the right to say no if someone asks them to engage in sexting. If someone sends them an unsolicited sext, they should come to you immediately so that you can help them handle the situation. This leads to our next tip...
Okay, I know that sounds like a very serious thing but what we mean is that you should create the expectation that your child will always come to you when something related to sexting happens to them. This way, you can be sure that nothing slips past you and you are able to talk with them and support them if anything happens.
Encourage them to be extremely mindful of the content they interact and engage with online. They should understand that the internet is forever, even if it seems like it isn't with the self-destructing messages and 5-second photo timers. They should never post or send anything they wouldn't be comfortable having teachers at school or other parents see. This can help them not lose control and check themselves before doing something they would later regret.
Most teens don't understand the seriousness of sexting because no one has ever taken the time to explain it to them. Talking with your teen about the consequences of sexting and what is considered child pornography is a crucial tough conversation you need to be having. After all, wouldn't you rather be the one to talk to them about it instead of someone else?
Keeping kids informed on the legal issues as well as the effect on their mental health can help frame their mindset when it comes to sending and receiving potentially inappropriate photos or messages. Be intentional about having these conversations and do your best to hear what they have to say. Making your child feel comfortable enough to ask questions and talk about their opinions will promote this open communication moving forward!
Source: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. "Teenage Sexting Statistics." GuardChild. Accessed April 14, 2014. http://www.guardchild.com/teenage-sexting-statistics/>.