Sexting: What Parents and Students Need to Know

Sexting is a relatively new behavior among teens that involves sharing sexually explicit messages, videos, and photos through text messaging and Internet-related outlets. Sexting can have serious consequences for everyone involved, including potentially being charged with child pornography. The long-lasting impact of having nude photos and videos become public can cause serious damage to a young person's self-esteem and real-world reputation. Adults need to have open, honest discussions with teenagers about the dangers of sexting and how they can protect themselves.

What is Sexting?

Sexting is the act of sending sexually suggestive messages, photos, and videos through texts and the Internet. Studies about the subject and discussions with teens have shown that they participate in sexting for many reasons: for attention from someone they're dating, as a way of flirting, and even as an effort to fit in with their friends. It's hard to know exactly how prevalent sexting is among teenagers, but it's safe to say that it has become a fairly common way for young adults to explore their sexuality. The problem with sexting is that most teenagers do not take it seriously and are too immature to understand the consequences of their actions. Sexually suggestive photos, videos, and messages can easily end up online and make adult life very difficult for young women and men. Most experts agree that education about safe sexting is the most effective form of protection for teenagers.

Potential Consequences

Although many teenagers think that sexting is harmless, especially if they are dating the other teen, there can be very serious consequences for everyone involved. Anything sent through the Internet is never truly private. It only takes one person to upload a photo to a public site or share it with the wrong person for that photo to instantly be part of the public domain. This can be devastating to a young person. Having a private photo or video become public is humiliating and can do serious damage to a young person's self-esteem. Suggestive photos could also possibly follow the teenager well into adulthood, damaging their reputation and making it more difficult to be taken seriously as an adult looking for a career.

In many states, possessing photos and videos of other teenagers is actually considered a sex crime. Underage teens can face many serious repercussions, but an 18-year-old sending or receiving messages from anyone underage (even a 17-year-old) is in serious danger. In certain states, teenagers can be at risk of being charged with having child pornography and being ordered to register as sex offenders. This is a dramatic and devastating consequence that will last for many years. If explicit messages are sent to someone in another state, which is very easy to do through social media, one can be charged with a felony crime.

Protecting Teens

In order to protect teens from making bad decisions about sexting, parents and teachers need to understand that the part of a teenager's brain that is in charge of long-term thinking and consequences is still being formed. It is very hard for teenagers to understand the lasting effects of their behavior. In order to combat unhealthy Internet behavior, adults need to educate teenagers on the potential consequences of their actions. Teens should know that in order to have healthy relationships, they need to protect themselves and understand the potential consequences of their actions. They should understand that if they are sent a sexual photo or video, it should be immediately deleted and never shared with anyone. Some experts hypothesize that sexting can be a normal, healthy part of teenage dating and should be handled the same way as safe sex. However, until the laws are changed and no longer include the risk of being labeled a sex offender, it is safer for teenagers to avoid exchanging sexual photos and videos altogether.

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