What parents may not know, is that sexting is not sending provocative or sexual text messages. Sexting is sending a naked or partially naked photo via text or through social media. One in three young persons has been involved in sexting, and one in five has forwarded a sext they received.
Something else that parents may not know is that sexting a photo of a minor is considered child pornography, even when a minor sends one to another minor. In Texas, state law considers a minor sexting to minor a Class C Misdemeanor, with additional penalties if one is sent to harass or bully someone. When these images are used to blackmail another person, it is called sextortion.
According to federal law, taking a photo of a child under the age of 18 is considered production of child pornography; sending a photo of a minor is considered distribution of child pornography; and keeping a photo of a minor is considered possession of child pornography. If an individual is charged with one of the above offenses, he/she will then be listed as a registered sex offender. Once on this list, it is difficult to be removed, and can lead to problems with an individual getting into college, getting a job, and residing in proximity to a school.
What can parents do? Talk with your teen about the dangers of sexting, and how that fits in with your family values. Coach them that if they receive a sext, to delete it immediately and not respond. Report harassment for continued receipt of sexts. Parents can educate other parents, and ask school administrators to educate students by adopting a curriculum. Curriculum can be found at www.athinline.org.
Teens report the following reasons for sending sexts: to be fun or flirtatious, to get or keep a boyfriend/girlfriend, to get attention from someone, to give it as a gift to a girlfriend/boyfriend, to get positive feedback, to feel sexy, and to respond to a message they received. 51% of girls and 18% of guys say that pressure from the opposite sex is the reason why they send sexy messages or images.
Sexting can be a predictor of sexual attitudes and activity. One study showed that students who have had intercourse are five times more likely than virgins to be involved in sexting. Sexting is a precursor to virtual slander, because images are easily forwarded or a screen shot can be taken. Teens experience regret, shame, embarrassment, humiliation, ruined reputations, and even suicide as a result of engaging in sexting.
Some resources to learn more about this and how to help your teen:
-Erin Wysong-Warren, MS, LPC, NCC, CSAT, CPTT