Authored by: Janae Briggs, Prevention Case Manager
If you listen to the media, Teen Sexting is a full blown epidemic and it is happening with all teens. Since most teens have cell phones, computers and many other forms of media capabilities, it makes parents worry. In looking up studies related to teen sexting, the information can give parents some relief with all the technology readily available to teens. That doesn’t mean that it won’t become a huge problem in the future.
In the studies that I looked at, there are different definitions of sexting which caused outcomes to be different. If the Texting was defined as sending or posting nude or semi-nude photos or videos, 20% of teenagers reported sexting in the past with 33% those being young adults. When the question was posed a little different and teens were asked if they sent or received sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude photos or videos, the findings revealed 4% of teenagers reported sending sexually suggestive images of themselves with no difference if they were male or female. Furthermore, when sexting was defined as images of genitals, bottoms or naked breasts the rate dropped to 1% versus 9.6% (e.g., images with youth wearing bathing suit, posing in a sexy manner with clothes on, or focused on clothed genitals).
Sexting is predominant among older teenagers and young adults. Seventeen year olds are more likely to send sexting images than their 12 year old counterparts, 8% compared to 4%. Sexting is most common among 18-24 years of age versus 14-17. In most studies, the sexting is happening between teenagers involved in a romantic relationship. When teenagers are asked 66% of teen girls and 60% of teen boys report they engage in sexting because it is fun or flirtatious. Other studies found that the majority of cases involved a teen seeking attention. Since most teens have cell phones and use them as their dominant form of communication there is a higher probability of sexting happening compared to teens with less cell phone use.
Teens who engage in sexting put themselves at risk for becoming victimized and possible cyberbullying. Research shows that females are more vulnerable to the negative consequences of sexting than males. Females can receive more pressure from romantic partners or perceived social expectations to engage in sexting and then are judged as a slut for sending them where males can be positively reinforced by collecting the sexually explicit messages. If these texts are then transmitted through the internet, they will be impossible to control. There is no way of supervising who will see the pictures or if they will be kept between the sender and intended recipient. There is also the worry that if the relationship ends or ends badly, these sexually explicit images can be used to damage reputations or cause bullying and harassment.
There is a wave for legislative reform where consequences are not as severe but severe enough to discourage damaging sexting. Legislators also want to allocate resources for schools to implement education programs for parents, minors and school personnel that will focus on the short and long-term psychological consequences of sexting. Studies show if parents are educated, set limits on cell phone use and monitor text messages, there is a decrease in likelihood of sexually suggestive images being sent through the cell phone.
At Salt Lake County Youth Services, we believe in the importance of parental involvement not only with teen’s cell phone activity but in everyday activities.
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