It is remarkable just how prevalent sexting has become. Defined as “the sending or receiving of nude or seminude images or sexually explicit text messages” in a new study on sexting behavior among youth, Erin Gabriel says sexting has increased over the past decade:
One in four young people said they’d received sexts, and one in seven reported sending them, according to the study… The research included data from 39 separate research projects conducted between January 1990 and June 2016, with a total of 110,380 participants, all of whom were under 18 — with some as young as 11.
The researchers focused on data since 2008 and found an increase in sexting among young people.
The increased number of young people involved in sending or receiving sexually explicit photographs or messages has corresponded with rapidly expanding access to cell phones.
Gabriel finds it unsurprising that as teens get older and more interested in sexuality, sexting becomes a useful communication strategy:
Kami Kosenko, a communications professor at North Carolina State University, agreed: “As individuals become more comfortable talking about sex and interact with more potential sexual partners, we would expect to see them engage in more sexual communication, of which sexting is a part.” Kosenko was not directly involved in the study.
Tweens and young teens are especially susceptible to the lure of social media and sexting:
The study predicts a similar upward trend in sexting among younger teens and preteens. Coupled with a lack of awareness of the risks involved, especially among younger children, that is a cause for concern, the researchers said.
Preteens can be particularly vulnerable to the pitfalls of sexting. Relationships among tweens (children 10 to 12) are often short-lived, and that makes individuals more vulnerable to having sexts forwarded without consent or being subject to sextortion: the use of nude images and or videos as a form of threat or blackmail.
“As tweens and kid smartphone ownership gets younger and younger, we are going to see an increase in the number of teens who are sexting,” Temple said.
On average, children in the study were 10.3 years old when they got their first smartphones.
Dr. Megan A. Moreno summarizes the study’s findings for JAMA and offers these tips for talking with your child about sexting:
Start the Discussion Early
Start the conversation with your child by asking broad questions such as, “Have you heard of sexting? Tell me what you think it is.” You can then frame your conversation around how much your child does or does not know. Seeing a story in the news, community, or at your child’s school is a good prompt to check in again. Emphasize the consequences of sexting as shown by situations in the news where it has gone badly.
Use Examples Appropriate for Your Child’s Age
For tweens with cell phones, let them know that text messages should never include images of anyone without clothes. For teenagers, be specific about what sexting is and that it can lead to serious consequences. For all ages, remind them that once an image is sent, it is no longer in their control and they cannot get it back. What is online or sent via text can exist forever and be sent to others.
Remind Your Teenager of Their Own Worth
Let your child know that being pressured to send a sext is not okay, nor is it a way to “prove” their love or show attraction. Let your child know you understand it is hard to be pressured or dared to do something but that they have the power to stand up for themselves. Remind your teenager that they are worthy of respect.