The Dangers of Sexting Among the Youth

Sexting is a term that refers to the sending of nude, partially nude or sexually suggestive images or text. These messages and images are typically sent from one cell phone to another, however computers may also be used. While so-called sexting can occur between adults, it is most problematic when it involves minors. Youth sexting has a number of implications for both the teen that sends the image and the people who receive it. When it comes to teens, sexually explicit images can result in not only public embarrassment, but it may also have serious legal implications.

Camera-enabled cell phones and the popularity of texting have made the sending of “sext” messages a common activity for some teens. There are a number of reasons that explain why this occurs. Often, teenagers get involved in sexting as a result of peer pressure or a need to fit in. A boyfriend or girlfriend may ask for images to be sent, or in some cases the teen may send the images without prompting or encouragement. In other cases, a teen may send a picture as a prank or to get the attention of person that they are attracted to. Statistics show that approximately 20 percent of teens between the ages of 13 and 19 have sent nude images of themselves to others. Between 67 and 71 percent of the people who have sent sexually explicit images have sent them to a boyfriend or girlfriend. Roughly 38 to 39 percent of teens have received or seen nude texts of other teens. These images were either sent to them directly or shared by someone else. One out of ten sext senders have sent sext messages or images to someone they did not know directly or knew only online.

What many teens don't take into account is that a sext can swiftly spread beyond the person that it was intended for. Once an image is sent, there are no guarantees that the person who received it will keep it private or even delete it. In some cases, the recipient may forward the images to others on his or her contact list or the images may end up on the Internet. Once an image is on the Internet, it can remain there for the indefinite future and become available for anyone to view. As a result, the teenager in the images can end up ostracized by their peers, humiliated and even threatened. This can cause problems in school, within the family, and it may even result in depression. Sexting can also continue to negatively impact a person beyond their high school years. Images online can follow a person into college or they may be seen by future employers, potential relationships and even a person's future children may eventually come across them.

For the person that receives and spreads the images, there are a number of legal ramifications. Because the images are of minors, the spreading of nude or partially nude photos may violate child pornography laws. As a result a person can be found guilty of distributing child pornography and may even have to register as a sex offender. Even the person that sends the images may be charged with the distribution of child pornography. Often when charges are filed in youth sexting cases, it is for what is called "aggravated" sexting. These cases typically involve sext messages to an adult or they are abusive or non-consensual and involve minors. Cases that are clearly child pornography, such as full nudity may also face criminal charges. If parents feel that their children are being unlawfully tried however, they may fight to prevent their children from facing legal ramifications, as in the Miller vs. Mitchell court case. During this case, parents went to court to block the charges against their daughters, who had sent semi-nude text images of themselves.

In an effort to prevent teenagers from participating in sexting, there are steps that parents can take. The most important step is to discuss the consequences of sending sexually explicit texts and images. Often teens don't consider how one simple action can affect them for the rest of their lives. This can be illustrated using news stories and legal cases regarding teens who have been charged with a crime or even committed suicide as a result of a sent sext message. If a child admits to sexting, parents should avoid extreme reactions. Often if a teen admits to sexting or sharing sent sext messages, they are upset and feel regret for their actions. Parents should help the teen delete any images and contact the parents of the teen that sent them.

Sending sexual pictures and text messages, or sexting, can have a long-term negative impact on the lives of teenagers. With teens having access to camera-ready cell phones and the ability to send and receive text messages, sexting has become an increasingly common problem among youth. It is important for both parents and their teens to fully understand the consequences that sending and receiving sexually explicit images can have. Whether it is peer pressure or a need to be liked, open conversation can reduce the likelihood of teens participating in sexually oriented texting.

Review the following links for more information about sexting.

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