Sexting: What it is, how often it happens, and how to talk to your teen about it

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Snapchat is one of the most popular social media platforms used by teenagers and adolescents today. The app became quickly popular because of a unique feature- when a user sends an image to a friend, that image is quickly deleted. Challenges arose as people tried to take screenshots- at one point, a user was informed of who was trying to save their images. A lack of digital data and record turned the content of what Snapchat users were sending to each other on a southern trek. Snapchat blew up the practice of ‘sexting’.

Sexting is not new due to the social media platform. Risque pictures have been transported through mail for decades upon decades. Before photographs turned boudoir, detailed and erotically charged letters did the trick. In today’s instant digital world, sending and receiving inappropriate images is easier than ever and thousands of teenagers are doing it. Whether through text, email, or messenger components of social media platforms, teens are finding a way to ask for, create, send, and receive sexually explicit images of themselves.

The Cyberbullying Research Center published findings from a study they conducted of over 5,000 middle and high school students between the ages of 12-17 about online problems including “sexting”. Some of their findings include:

  • 12% of students said they have sent an explicit image of themselves to someone else
  • 4% of students had sent an explicit image of themselves within the last month
  • 19% of students received a sexually explicit image
  • 6% of students received a sexually explicit image within the last month
  • “Older students were more likely to report that they had participated in sexting,” the article explained
  • 1 out of every 5 students of 17 years old sent explicit images of themselves to someone
  • Less than 6% of 12 year olds in the study had sent explicit images of themselves to someone else

Interestingly, the website reports that “Boys were significantly more likely to send and receive sexts.” The organization states that a previous study on the matter, conducted in 2010, “…found that boys were significantly more likely to receive a sext, but boys and girls were equally as likely to send one.”

Talking to your teen about sexting

Clinicians suggest that the best way to talk about sexting with a teen is to talk about it directly. Teenagers and parents alike should be educated on the risks of online engagements of the sexually explicit nature. Each state has different laws about the age of consent and about digital interactions. Ask your teen what they know about the practice, the laws, and what they think the consequences of this kind of communication is- if any. It is important to take shame out of the equation, keeping in mind that the teenage and adolescent brain is still evolving. Instead, ask teens to make a moral evaluation for themselves. Urge the teen to consider how they would feel if they were ‘caught’ sending these messages by someone they respect and trust. If a teen is feeling embarrassed or wrong about their actions, encourage them to evaluate their decision making. Avoid shaming their sexuality and sexual exploration, as their hormones are reaching an age for that to be very normal. Have a conversation about living in a digital world and how that can affect their future.

Stonewater Adolescent Recovery Center is a private residential treatment program in Mississippi, serving adolescent and teenage boys with foundation building, life-cleansing programming for recovery. If addiction has found its way into the life your loved child, call us today for information on our clinical and academic support: 662-598-4214

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