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It's a BIG deal: Teen Sexting

Read Time: est. 5 mins

What you need to know! Teen Sexting.

This is my version of a PSA. Recently I had a conversation about teenage pornography, and it dovetailed to talking about one of the biggest epidemics with teenagers – teen sexting. The language can be scary to start talking about sexting let alone sex with your children or grandchild, but it could be one of the most important conversations you may have.

  • Most tweens (ages 8 to 12) and teens (ages 13 to 18) spend more time watching TV and movies, playing games and using the Internet than they do in school or with parents—on average more than six hours per day. That’s more than a typical 40 hour work week.

  • Over 50 % of teens use an online social network site, such as Facebook.

  • Most children receive their first cell phone at age nine or ten.

  • Approximately three in four teenagers have a cell phone.

  • 70 percent of teens text daily—totaling nearly an hour and a half of texting time—making it their number one form of communication.

Parents and caregivers need to be educated about digital media and to set rules regarding its use so that it can be a positive experience for all.

Teen sexting

Most teens today are comfortable with documenting their lives online, Snapchat, Instagram and who knows what now. Posting photos, updating their status messages, sharing rapid-fire texts, and being a click away from friends are the new standard for teens. But this "permanently on" generation also creates an environment where teens can make impulsive decisions that can come back to haunt them, forever!! One example of this has been in the news a lot lately: sexting.

  • Missouri Governor - felony charges for invasion of privacy

  • Arizona representive drops out of race due to sexting

What kind of lessons are we modeling for our children?

When people take and send sexually revealing pictures of them or send sexually explicit messages via text message, it's called "sexting." While experts differ on statistics, sexting is a teen reality that's here to stay.

Sending these pictures or messages is challenging enough, but the actual confrontation comes when this content is distributed outside of the intend recipient. Too many teens have found out, the recipient of these messages is in possession of a highly compromising image or message that can be easily posted on a social networking site or sent to others via email or text.

Why do teens do this behavior?

  • Peer Pressure

  • Blonging

  • Uneducated around consequence

  • Self-esteem

  • Validation

  • Confusion

  • “The New Norm”, their second base!

Why sexting matters

In the world of the hyper-speed of the Internet and cellphones where anything can be copied, sent, posted, and seen by huge audiences, there's no such thing as being able to control information. The intention doesn't matter - even if a photo was taken and sent as a token of love or sexual impulse, for instance, the technology makes it potential for everyone to see your child's most intimate self. In the hands of teens, when revealing photos are made public, the subject almost always ends up feeling humiliated.

Is sexting illegal

Sending sexual images to minors is against the law, and some states have begun prosecuting kids for child pornography or felony obscenity.

The practice is not illegal when photos are shared amongst consenting adults, but when minors are involved, sexual-exploitation and child-pornography laws can come into play; so great care is needed in the handling of sexting cases concerning people under 18.

Guidance for parents

  • Don't delay for an incident to happen to your child or your child's friend before you talk about the consequences of sexting. A great time to talk about sexting could be when you talk about technology. For example, reminding them that texting is just like talking and break down some of the rules that you feel are important.

  • It’s ok to talk about the fact that we have clouds and our digital information is vulnerable to people seeing it. Now is the time to talk about privacy.

  • This is the new peer pressure. We have all been there and experienced it at some level, sexting really another example of teaching about peer pressure.

  • Consent, it cannot be emphasized enough. You must communicate to your children that they have a voice in this matter. If someone sends them a photo, they should delete it immediately. It's better to be part of the solution than the problem. Besides, if they do send it on, they're distributing pornography - and that's against the law. Above explains the unchartered waters this can have for you and your child.

How to keep up to speed!

The Internet and apps children are participating on are moving at the speed of light. So how can you keep up? The best answer is go directly to the source. Your children are going to be able to give you the answers you need. You simply need to watch and listen to them.

  1. Talk to your teen. A frightening thought for many of us, but one of those inevitable tasks of parenting. Talk to them about the possible long-term consequences of getting involved in sexting. Like the fact that nude images of kids under age 18 are child pornography, which is illegal. It’s really validating that they hear you’re aware and interested.

  2. Set up boundaries. Do you let your kids drive drunk? Do you let them stay on their phone all day? The cellphone is significant in their way of communicating. Remember boundaries are defined and role modeled by you.

  3. You might need to teach cold-turkey. The cellphone can be the death of our society and if you hang out with me long enough you learn the best way is get rid of it, by not having it you don’t need to worry. Teach them what it feels like to leave without it for a week.

Other things to consider…

Just like teaching them how to make their bed and brush their teeth. Teach them cellphone etiquette.

  • Invite them to learn about courtship – healthy dating

  • Explore what questions they might have about sexual health.

  • When in doubt role model, role model role model….

  • Learn your state laws and what you need to know around sexting.

Dr. Ryan Westrum is mental health practioner, sex therapist and educator that advocate for healthy sexual conversations and development. Please contact Dr. Ryan Westrum to learn about his services. He is available at and 952-261-5269.

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