HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Just a few days ago, police charged two boys and a girl who go to Pennsylvania high school.
Troopers say they shared an explicit photo. What’s illegal is that the image transmitted was allegedly that of a minor. Police have been warning kids about the dangers of sexting, but it keeps happening.
Dr. Diane Brockman joined us in studio to answer our questions about sexting and what parents can do to stop their kids from doing it.
What is sexting?
Sexting is sending, receiving, or forwarding sexual photos or sexually suggestive messages through text message or email. While the term “Sext” has been around since about 2005, the idea of exchanging or recording sexual material isn’t a new concept.
Historically sexual material has been distributed by means of drawings, photographs, and videos. Then along came the internet through which electronic devices and social media outlets have changed the game of sexual exchanges.
These modern technology advances have made sexual exchanges much easier and more powerful than ever before. With a click of a button, a picture can be distributed to many people instantaneously and once it’s out there, there’s no going back.
So how prevalent is sexting?
According to research: approximately 39% of teens between the ages of 13-19 have sent at least one sext message and 48% have received one sext message.
Of the teens who sext 63% said the photos were sent to a boyfriend/girlfriend, 29% said they sent them to somebody they were casually dating, 19% sent these photos to someone they didn’t know well and only met through a chatting app and 24% sent them to someone they only knew online.
To top it off, of those who reported receiving a sext, well over 25 percent said that they had forwarded it to someone else. So, they’re sharing the pics with their friends. Additionally, females tend to sext more than males.
Why would teens want to sext?
Again according to research: 49% of the teens said it was harmless fun, 39% said they did it to receive photos back, 16% thought it was a normal thing to do, 16% said they did it because everybody else was doing it, 13% said they were pressured into sexting, peer pressure and from partner.
It is important to remember that the part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, that is responsible for problem solving, impulse control, and weighing out options is not fully developed in teens. In fact, it doesn’t fully mature until the early to mid-twenties.
Sexting is so simple that teens may not stop to think before they click and send. Many teens get too caught up in the moment and don’t think about the potential consequence sexting can bring, not only legally, but also to their reputation.
Sadly a third of the teens stated that they didn’t think about the legal ramifications or consequences of their actions. T
This may come as no surprise, teens who engaged in sexting were more likely than others to find the activity acceptable. They had justified their behavior to the point that they didn’t view it as wrong.
Some teens make a decision to sext because it is a lot safer to sext than have sex. However, once those explicit photos are released online, they can be easily leaked, shared or worse yet, go viral. Many teens may buy into the facade that their online activity is private, but no matter how hard they try to convince themselves, in truth, there is no such thing as online privacy.
How do we teach our teens to avoid dangerous online behaviors?
Explain the consequences of sexting. It’s important that parents, spend time speaking with their teens about sex and the consequences and dangers of sexting, that there are emotional and legal ramifications to sexting.
Emotionally sexting can take a toll on a person, especially if it backfires and gets into the wrong hands. Sexting may lead to bullying for the teen whose photos have been solicited to others.
Also, sexting can compromise reputations. Not just social reputations but digital reputations can take a hit. Once a photo is out, there’s no way of knowing how many people have saved it, tagged it, or shared it.
Legally Pennsylvania has laws about transmitting, distributing or sharing nude images of yourself or others between ages 12-18 and possessing nude images of others age 12-18.
Monitor social media and cellphones. This doesn’t mean parents must check on their teens at all hours. Instead, random phone checks and access to a teen’s social media accounts for occasional inspection are usually enough to make teens nervous about getting caught with any explicit images on their devices.
Know which social media sites your teen uses and have a policy about her online friends to show her not only that you care, but that you won’t tolerate any sexting or similar behaviors.
Consider setting up your own social media profile, which may help deter sexting. This is one of the most effective ways at helping to control such behavior.
Be aware that even if you are vigilant about monitoring your teen’s devices, they can still delete potentially problematic content or hide them under apps that look like calculators.
Set limits on social media use. Many families have situations or times of the day where cellphones are banned, such as at dinner.
Keeping teens off their phones for all hours is another good way to limit all night chat sessions Keep phone chargers in the parents’ room so the teen cannot access them once in bed.
Educate teens on proper decision-making skills. Teaching them how to react in hypothetical situations helps them when they are faced with peer pressures like sexting, drug use, and other risky behaviors.
They also need to understand that not only is creating a sexually explicit photo and sending it considered sexting, but so is simply forwarding such an image.
As parents, educators and community leaders we need to keep generating a healthy dialogue (remain calm and reasonable) with teens about protecting themselves online and making wise choices.