Are My Teens Sexting?
Today’s culture teaches teens that rebellion is part of growing up, that hiding one’s actions from prying eyes is normal, and that sex is no big deal. Because of that, sexting has become normalized—everyone does it! Right? Whether your teens attend public school, private school, or homeschool, they are not immune to the influence of culture, thanks to the ubiquity of the internet and smartphones. At some point, they or their friends will be tempted by the ease, seeming playfulness, and safety (no risk of pregnancy OR face-to-face rejection) that sexting offers.
What is sexting?
A combo of “sex” and “texting,” sexting is literally sending sexually explicit messages via electronic device (computer, smartphone, tablet, gaming console). This can mean saying sexual things via words and emojis, as well as sending suggestive or nude photos.
Do teens sext?
Unfortunately, yes. One 2016 study found that 14.2% of teen boys and 10% of teen girls report sending sexual messages via text, email, or private messaging, while 19.6% of teen boys and 17.7% of teen girls report receiving such messages. However, statistics on teen sexting vary widely, due to things like media sensationalization and whether or not teens feel comfortable answering honestly. Since at least 50% of teens report that they have been asked to send a sext, it’s safe to assume they will encounter it at some point.
Isn’t that illegal?
This is where things get fuzzy. In the US, if the sexting occurs between two consenting adults (18+), then it’s not illegal. But if it’s between minors, it’s possible that child sexual exploitation and child pornography laws could come into play. But the law hasn’t been able to keep up with technology, so in instances where a teen takes a photo of him/herself and shares it with others, he/she could be considered both the perpetrator and the victim (and there are steep consequences for perpetrators of child pornography). And, if your child is 18 and sexting with someone who is 17 or 16, your child would be tried as an adult (not a minor) if charges are filed. Check out this Wikipedia article for more info.
Can the schools help?
In order to protect both the school and students, your school should have a sexting policy in place. In the event that an incident does occur, there should be a clear plan of action in order to avoid legal troubles, arguments among staff, or difficulties with the parents involved. It needs to clearly define three main things:
- What sexting is
- The punishment options available
- Who should be notified and involved.
For more details, check out this article from the Cyberbullying Research Center. And if your school doesn’t yet have a policy, this is a great time to talk to administrators about making it a priority.
If my teen isn’t sexting do we really need to talk about it?
Not addressing it is an option, but it may not be the wisest choice. Even if your child hasn’t sexted, the pressure to do so will only become greater over time. If you don’t equip them with the tools they need to be wise and make good decisions ahead of time, how will they know what to do when confronted with the pressure to sext?