RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—The phenomenon of “sexting” among teenagers has made lots of headlines lately. Now a new survey shows that girls as young as 10 years old are sexting, sending online or cellphone text messages with photos of themselves nude or wearing just their underwear. This comes at a time when school officials and legal authorities are grappling with how to deal with new forms of digital self-expression. Depending on your jurisdiction, a sexting child can be charged with felony counts of possessing child pornography. In other places, authorities leave the problem to parents to deal with.
THE DETAILS: The most recent sexting survey, released Tuesday by the research and marketing group AK Tweens, found that among the 300 girls aged 9 to 15 years old who were questioned, 30 percent had sent or received sexual messages or photos of themselves. Girls as young as 10 also reported receiving sexy messages or photos from people they didn’t even know. When asked why they send or post these pictures or messages, the girls said it’s to receive attention, be cool, be like the popular girls, and find a boyfriend. Recently, a National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy survey discovered that 22 percent of teen girls and 18 percent of teen boys sent or posted online nude or semi-nude pictures. More than 30 percent admitted they have these types of pictures that were meant for someone else. In other words, this often is an experience shared by more people than the sender and his or her intended recipient.
WHAT IT MEANS: While the trend is shocking to parents, in most cases texting is likely rooted in normal adolescent urges, says Debby Herbenick, PhD, MPH, research scientist and associate director of The Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana State University. “Communicating about sexuality or one's desire or fantasies can absolutely be a form of sexual expression, whether it's done in person, on the phone, via e-mail, or via texting or so-called sexting,” she explains. “Sexting can also be a form of identity exploration and expression. Teenagers are often trying to figure out who they are, how to express their feelings, and how to connect with friends or people they have romantic feelings for, and it would not be surprising that sexting is one of the many ways that teenagers explore.” And of course, peer pressure is a factor. “Pre-teens and teenagers are at a point in their lives where they very much want to fit in and feel liked, which may make them more likely to do things like sext, including sending sexy photos of themselves,” Herbenick says.
The best way to handle sexting? Good, old-fashioned face-to-face communication.
Here’s how to deal with the sexting issue with kids in your household: