A new survey sponsored by LG Mobile Phones found that 1-in-3 teens have now participated in sexting – the practice of sending and receiving of sexualized images and text, and 1-in-4 think it’s a normal part of teen life. The survey also found that “for many teens, sending, receiving and forwarding these types of messages and images – and even being the target of such messages – is indicative of a higher social status.”
With the highly sexualized media environment, the popularity of sexting, and the pressure placed on teens to participate, sext prevention messaging is fighting an uphill battle. The ‘just say no’ variety of messages is likely to be as ineffective against sexting as it was against drugs in the eighties.
Instead, efforts need to focus on helping youth see past their naïveté surrounding the implications of sending sexual messages:
- Once an image has been shared, the sender has lost all control of where that will be distributed.
- The girl- or boyfriend of today, is highly likely to share it with friends (a main point of having the photo for most youth is to show people you have it).
- When breakups occur, the malicious dissemination of an ex’s nude image(s) is an all too common experience.
- The humiliation caused by having the victim’s image(s) disseminated can be devastating. Simply knowing their ‘private’ photo is seen and shared by potentially millions of people – possibly including family members, school teachers, their religious leaders, neighbors, and pedophiles – and that the image may haunt them forever can be overwhelming. In several extreme, tragic cases, girls like Jessica Logan, and Hope Witsell have committed suicide.
- The photos may be used for blackmail. See Sexting Hell: Man Posing as Girl on Facebook Blackmails Boys into Sex
- The photos may be classified as child pornography, and the image taker, the image recipient, and any other recipients may be charged and registered as sex offenders – a label that will follow them through life. “Sexting” Leads to Child Porn Charges for Teens, ‘Sexting’ Teens May Face Child Porn Charges
- The photos may carry consequences that include getting kicked off of teams, squads, and leadership roles in schools and extracurricular programs. And may result in the loss of scholarships – or cause that the student not be considered for scholarships. Teens may also lose their jobs.
- The photos may increase the likelihood of becoming a victim of physical abuse.
Sharing this message becomes more difficult when parents, the frontline defense for educating youth, are themselves are sexting…
Perhaps a more surprising finding from the nationwide LG survey is that 28% of parents polled say they are sexting, and not always with their partners.
Charles Sophy, a child and family psychiatrist in Beverly Hills, Calif., says many of his patients who are parents engage in sexting, and not always with their partners. “It’s a new and exciting way, for lack of a better term, to explore and express themselves when marriages are in bad spots.” He also noted that an increasing number of committed couples also are sexting with each other, and as long as they set parameters, the activity is not necessarily a “bad thing,” and it may be a way to “revamp” a relationship.
That could be, but if the relationship is on the rocks, or a split comes later, these adults will face many of the issues their teens face.
For more information on LG’s educational materials about responsible mobile use for parents and teens, check out their Give it a Ponder’ Program, and their ‘TextEd’ website.