sexting

Making poor decisions and underestimating their consequences are the hallmarks of being a teenager. Today, teenagers are faced with so many decisions to make every day, it can seem unbelievable that any of them make it into their twenties unscathed.

Getting into trouble while navigating the dating world is nothing new for teenagers, either. However, what is new are all the different ways to communicate: talking on the phone, text messaging, email, facebook, twitter, the list goes on. With all of these avenues of communication available, it was only a matter of time before teens found themselves in trouble because of it.

Sexting is a fairly new term that is used to describe a number of activities. Mainly, it refers to exchanging sexually suggestive or explicit text messages and email, but it also is used to describe exchanging photos or other sexual material, and also forwarding or otherwise sharing the information received with someone else.

What the studies are showing

Researchers at the University of Utah's Department of Psychology conducted an survey of 606 teenagers aged 14 to 18. Twenty percent of the teens admitted to sending a sexual image of themselves using a cell phone. Almost 40 percent said they had received one, and worse, more than 25 percent of those students admitted to sharing the sext with their friends.

Another study at the University of Texas Medical Branch looked at the correlation between sexting and engaging in actual sexual activity. More than two-thirds of teens who were propositioned to sext admitted to having intercourse.

What do these statistics mean? First, kids who are sexting are far more likely to be engaging in actual intercourse. Second, teens do not seem to be aware that their pictures and messages are virtually public once they have been sent to a single person, and that they cannot get them back once they are sent.

The Consequences

What teens never anticipate when sexting is the situation backfiring. They never imagine that picture will get shared or forwarded to a friend who will then forward it to five more friends, and so on. Once this domino effect takes place, it can only be a matter of hours before a teen feels like the whole world has seen their photos. Embarrassment, shame, and fear can be paralyzing, and taunting classmates can cause incomprehensible suffering.

Then there are the future troubles. If a picture makes it to the internet, there is no turning back. If a name gets tagged, it is almost always there forever. Prospective employers will eventually find the information, college and internship placements can be compromised, future social engagements and dating prospects can be hampered.

Legal ramifications for sexting are becoming more and more strict. There are not many laws in place as of yet, but many parent groups and other interest groups are pushing hard to get more laws passed. Soon, kids who are sexting may find they have to face very serious consequences.

The Solutions

How can parents put a stop to this madness? We all talk to our teenagers and explain all the data, the consequences, the horror stories. But with their notorious invincibility and immature impulse control, it can feel like you're talking to a stone wall. Keep talking, and talk about it often. No matter how useless it feels, those words will slowly sink in.

Luckily, the technology has also provided excellent solutions to help parents maintain control over their teenagers's social engagements. Applications that can monitor all of your teen's online communication is available today. These apps can collect text messages, emails, Facebook exchanges, Twitter activity, Instagram sharing, and some can even physically track an individual using Facebook check-ins and GPS locators on mobile devices. Using these programs will help you to stop your teen from making bad decisions before it's too late.

Always keep the lines of communication open. Let your teens know they can talk to you about sex, and maintain ongoing dialogues about the consequences of all sexual activity, not just sexting. And keep an eye on what they are doing. A few generations ago, a chaperone was sent out with teenagers to ensure proper behavior. Now, we can let technology act as the chaperone and know our kids are safer.

Concerned about sexting? Learn more about the basics and what you can do to help prevent the dangerous consequences with our eBook: “Understanding Sexting: Nine Things Every Parent Should Know

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Tim Woda
Tim Woda is an Internet safety expert, and a passionate advocate for empowering families and protecting children from today’s scariest digital dangers. Woda was on the founding team of buySAFE, an Internet trust and safety company, and he started working on child safety issues after his son was targeted by a child predator online. While his son was unharmed, the incident led Woda to kick-start uKnow.com. You can follow Tim on Twitter or on his blog.