Just to be clear, “sexting” is a combination of the words “sex” and “texting.” It is defined by Urban Dictionary “the act of text messaging someone in the hopes of having a sexual encounter with them later; initially casual, transitioning into highly suggestive and even sexually explicit.” These messages may also include pictures of one self. The Merriam Webster Dictionary includes a similar definition.
A 2012 study cites states “among girls, the use of sexting behaviors appears to coincide with much higher engagement in risky sex behaviors.” The risk is not limited to teen girls. Did you know that over 75% of teens who are propositioned to have sex via a text, actually end up having sexual intercourse? You are likely already aware of the risks sexual activity including teen pregnancy, contracting HIV or a sexually transmitted disease.
Sexting can also have legal ramifications. For example, a teen girl sending a sexually explicit picture of herself to her boyfriend is not illegal (though not a good idea). However, the boyfriend then sharing the picture with one or more people can lead to big problems. This can be considered distribution of child pornography and can carry a prison sentence and the sender being required to register as a sex offender. Psychology Today published an article about the legal concerns with sexting.
Here are some suggestions for parents:
- Talk with your teens about the risks of sexting. Like the “birds and the bees” talk, this can be a difficult topic to broach with your teens. Considering the risks, it is important to set aside your reservations and do it anyway. Don’t wait for a sexting incident to have this conversation! Talk to your teen about what to do if they receive a sexual message or picture: delete it and never send it on!
- Talk about peer pressure with your teens. Check out That's Not Cool, a website dedicated to helping teens navigate peer pressure in the electronic age.
- Talk about healthy relationships. It is important for teens to identify and stand by their boundaries when it comes to dating and sexual relationships. Not only will this help keep them safe, it will also foster a sense of self-respect. Check out the conversation starters for parents at Start Strong!
- Set rules for the use of electronic devices and social media. Monitor their phone, texting and email content. Watch your teen’s use of social media including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like. These devices can be taken away if your teen is not able to follow the rules set for their use.
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