Posted on August 29, 2016 in Teen Mental Health

Teen Sexting, Cyberbullying Put Parents on Edge

Go back five years and few people could even define the term “sexting.” Now sexting is entrenched in both the conversation and habits of many people who find it both fun and stimulating. According to Pew Research, sexting is growing rapidly among couples and singles. The number of young people ages 18 to 24 who report receiving sexts increased from 26% in 2012 to 44% in 2014. Sophisticated technology found in smartphones makes snapping photos —and sending, receiving and resending them — extremely easy.

Sexting and Young People

Increasing numbers of children and teens also have access to smartphones and are picking up on the trend of sexting. And it has parents and public health officials feeling anxious. Based on a recent national poll on children’s health by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, sexting and Internet safety are among the top 10 health concerns facing children in the U.S. Internet safety is ranked at No. 4 and sexting is No. 6 on the list. Pew’s surveys found that 20% of all cell phone owners (which includes children and teens) reported receiving nude or nearly-nude images. This is up from 15% in 2012.

Cyberbullying and Long-Term Consequences

And it’s not only cyber nudity that has parents on edge. The ubiquitous use of smartphones among young people potentially exposes children and teens to the danger of predators and other harmful influences such as cyberbullying that may also involve sexting-related messages or images. Many times the bullying moves from known peers to social networking sites and creates an overwhelming cascade of abuse that becomes hard to escape. Once these images are posted on the Internet, they become available to anyone, including sexual predators and pedophiles. The media regularly reports on cases where teens have been ostracized, humiliated or even taken their lives as a result of the public shaming they’ve endured by those who exploit them.

The sharing of these private images not only has potentially damaging social consequences for children and teens in the present but can follow them into adulthood, affecting their ability to establish themselves professionally. Modern media technology changes the way we view youthful indiscretions. Digital images are a permanent record that can circulate indefinitely as they are passed from one person to the next.

What’s a Parent to Do?

So where should we focus our efforts to protect children from this threat? Do we start with technology and build protective measures into the phones we allow our children and teens to use? If we take this approach, it seems likely that young people will find ways around those limitations. Perhaps we start with parental oversight and accountability. This is relatively easy when children are young but becomes a bigger challenge as the teen becomes more independent and spends less time at home and more time with peers. Every state either has laws in place for sexting or is in the process of establishing what is lawful and what is not. Generally, any transmission of sexually explicit texts or images to or from anyone under18 is considered a crime and punishable by the laws established in that state. If we strengthen the message to young people that this is a crime, will that deter them? Maybe.

Chances are good that sexting will continue to gather momentum among both adults and young people. If we really want to see young people practice sexual restraint, perhaps more adults should model this restraint for them.

What are your thoughts about the trend of sexting in general and specifically about the growing trend toward sexting in children and teens?

Sources:

http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/02/11/couples-the-internet-and-social-media/

http://www.mottchildren.org/news/archive/201508/sexting

By Gary Gilles

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