The Dangers of a New Trend Among Teens: Sexting

If you have a teen in your home with a cell phone, chances are you have heard of sexting. This is a term used to describe the practice of sending sexually explicit text or picture messages via a cell phone, and it is becoming a very serious issue among young people. Media has covered this issue extensively; The Oprah Winfrey Show, Anderson 360, and The Tyra Banks Show have all done multiple stories on the subject. CBS News reports that roughly 20% of teens have participated in the activity, and studies show that it is becoming a trend not only with older teens but with middle school students as well. In addition, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and commissioned a survey of teens and young adults to explore electronic activity. What they found was alarming:

  • 22% of teen girls (ages 13-19) have sent/posted nude or seminude pictures or video of themselves;
  • 37% of teen girls are sending or posting sexually suggestive messages;
  • 42% of teen girls say “pressure from guys” is the reason they send and post sexually suggestive messages and images.

Many students see sexting as a harmless game or flirtation, but it can have very serious consequences. Six middle school students in Massachusetts are facing charges of child pornography after forwarding inappropriate photos of a female classmate, and a Pennsylvania teen was recently sentenced to classes on sexual harassment and sexual violence after facing similar charges.

Even if sexting has no legal consequences for those involved, it can easily have social or emotional repercussions. For instance, sexually explicit text messages are being used to bully the people who originally sent them. Two high school cheerleaders in Washington were socially humiliated and banned from the cheerleading squad after “sexts” they had sent to classmates (sexually explicit pictures of themselves) were forwarded to the administrators of their High School.

Experts counsel parents to speak with their children about sexting and the risks associated with the trend. Only through open and frank dialogue can we hope to stem the tide of this disturbing trend. In addition we must remind our teens that there is no changing your mind in cyberspace-anything you send or post will never truly go away.