8 Dangers of Sexting—and What Parents Can Do
By Kyle Roberts, MA
Author’s note: For the purpose of these articles, we will define sexting as the sending and receiving of sexually explicit messages— text or images. We often think of sexting as primarily happening through text messaging on a cell phone. However, now these messages can be sent and received through apps, social media, or any medium that has a messaging option.
In our first article we discussed a few of the reasons WHY kids might send sexually explicit messages; now let’s talk about how dangerous that practice can be.
- Illegal for anyone underage
In some states sending and receiving texts from anyone under the age of 18 constitutes possession and distribution of child pornography and can result in criminal charges. Since child pornography is a sexual crime, perpetrators carry around the label of a sex offender (Gloria Allred: “Dangers of Teen Sexting”, n.d.).
- Replaces communication, minimizes social cues
We all can agree that texting is much easier than calling someone on the phone. Especially if you just have a quick question, don’t know the person well, or don’t have the time to get pulled into a long conversation. I don’t even know if kids today know how to make a phone call. Sexting takes that to the next level. For some it gives plenty of reward with little risk or investment. It takes all the ways texting has impacted communication and adds a sexual component. To name a few:
- It minimizes person to person interaction, decreasing intimacy while increasing objectification.
- It blasts through social rules, resulting in a decrease in privacy and personal boundaries.
- It perpetuates instant gratification and entitlement to another person’s body (Villines, 2012).
- Once it’s out there, it’s out there.
We have all heard of our digital footprint, which is basically the information, pictures, and really anything and everything you put out there on the World Wide Web. What about the information or pictures you didn’t necessary put out there? What if that picture or sext was meant for just one pair of eyes? The minute you hit send, you are releasing your ownership of that picture. Whoever gets that picture can do whatever they want with it, no matter how many promises they made that they wouldn’t share it with anyone. AKA revenge porn (Revenge Porn: The Facts, n.d.). Don’t even get us started on Snapchat!
- Emotional toll
Individual sexuality and sexual expression is a very vulnerable and intimate thing. Sharing those parts of ourselves with others in any form has an emotional impact. When a young person sexts, they are putting that picture into the hands of another person. Who is to say you won’t get into a fight with that person, or what if someone else gets ahold of their device? It is a scary world through which our kids are navigating. We have all heard the stories. A sext can set you up for bullying—on and off the internet— and can ruin your reputation (Inbar, 2009 and Cyberbullying and Sexting on Social Media, n.d.).
- Grooming tactic
Sexually explicit messaging can and has been used as a grooming device of sexual predators. They go about it in the usual way, offering gifts and gaining the trust of the child, ultimately leading to them asking for an innocent, normal-seeming picture; then the requests get more and more sexually suggestive. Soon the predator has a picture or several of the child that can be used as a sort of blackmail to get the child to send more pictures or to engage in sexual acts or their photos will be exposed to the world (Rakosnik). See this article for more information on ways predators groom.
Sexting is the act of self objectification. We no longer are seen as a human body with a warm touch; we are often minimized into a headless, sexually-suggestive or nude picture. When we engage in sexting, we become a thing that is used for the sexual gratification of another. There is no give and take, communication, intimacy, or value (McKay, 2013). This leads us into the larger issue that, “[w]omen [and men] who live in a culture in which they are objectified by others may in turn begin to objectify themselves” (Self-Objectification May Inhibit Women’s Social Activism, 2013). When we see others as objects we begin to see ourselves as objects, only of value when used by others. Is this what we hope for our daughters and sons?
- Imposes expectations/pressure on people to do things they aren’t ready for, comfortable with, or want to do at all.
Sexting coercion. It’s a thing. That is when someone pressures you to sext and you don’t want to (The Pressure to Sext: What You Need to Know About Sexting Coercion). Much like the grooming tactics of sexual predators listed above, it starts out with a person just asking for a selfie, then leads to much more. With kids as young as nine having access to texting enabled devices, we need to prepare them for what they may encounter.
- Sexting in relation to pornography
With the pervasiveness and easy access to pornography, we are seeing more and more sexual behavior from children at younger ages (Bingham, 2014). When they grow up with media, especially pornography, as a sex-ed teacher, children begin to mimic or expect those sexual behaviors from their peers as they head down the path of sexual objectification. Sexting as a ‘normal’ or ‘expected’ teenage behavior as proliferated on TV, movies, and in music is an idea that needs to be rejected (Hoder, 2104).
What can you do?
- Communicate, communicate, communicate! In your discussions with your children, bring up sexting; ask them what they think about it, if they have done it, if they feel pressured to do it?
- Tell them what the expectations are in your family, and teach them the morals you hope they plan to maintain with regard to sending sexually explicit messages.
- Create a plan—help your children know what they can and should do if they are asked for or receive a sexually explicit message from ANYONE. Role playing is very beneficial here. Give them the words they need to reject a sexting request, and have them practice using those words.
- Help your child build their self worth. Knowing they have value and they are more than just an object helps children reject the idea that in order to be valuable to others they have to engage in something they aren’t comfortable with. This sense of self can help a child speak out when something isn’t right.
- As a parent, ask yourself, how cell phone etiquette is handled in your home. When are family members allowed to use phones? What times and locations are off limits? For example, no texting after 9pm or no phones at the dinner table?
- Be aware of who they are texting, how often, and at what times. What are the family rules for texting? For example, never text anyone you don’t know, you have 20 minutes to text mom or dad back, and so on.
- Check their phones. This may vary family to family or from child to child, but it is important to have accountability. You can simply let them know you will be doing regular or random checks or you can get software or an app that will provide this information to you.
- If you notice any sudden or drastic changes in your child’s behavior, odds are something is up. They could be experiencing bullying, engaging in harmful activities such as sexting, drug or alcohol use, or who knows what else. It’s almost like our kids can build a fence around themselves to keep us out. Don’t be afraid to climb those fences!
Our kids are navigating through some tough waters out there. At times, we know it may feel impossible to protect them from everything that has the potential to hurt them. There is always hope when you have a parent who takes the time to not only learn more about what they are going through, but to help guide them on their way. So keep up the good work.
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Check out our first article 6 Reasons Why Kids Sext
Gloria Allred: “Dangers of Teen Sexting” (n.d.). Retrieved May 10, 2016, from http://criminal.lawyers.com/juvenile-law/gloria-allred-dangers-of-teen-sexting.html
Villines, Z. (2012, July 26). How Texting Changes Communication. Retrieved May 10, 2016, from http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/texting-teens-adults-communication-0726126
Revenge Porn: The Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved May 10, 2016, from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/405286/revenge-porn-factsheet.pdf
Inbar, M. (2009, December 02). ‘Sexting’ bullying cited in teen’s suicide. Retrieved May 10, 2016, from http://www.today.com/id/34236377/ns/today-today_news/t/sexting-bullying-cited-teens-suicide/#.VxBW5GPnvR0
Cyberbullying and Sexting on Social Media. (n.d.). Retrieved May 10, 2016, from http://www.ncpc.org/programs/living-safer-being-smarter/surfing-safer/cyberbullying-and-sexting-on-social-media
Rakosnik, M. V. (n.d.). The new technology victims: Sexting and grooming | Euro Psychiatry Summit-2015 | OMICS International. Retrieved May 10, 2016, from http://psychiatrist.conferenceseries.com/abstract/2015/the-new-technology-victims-sexting-and-grooming
McKay, T. (2013, September 30). Female Self-Objecti cation: Causes, Consequences and Prevention. Retrieved May 10, 2016, from http://commons.emich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1065&context=mcnair
Self-Objectification May Inhibit Women’s Social Activism. (2013, February 14). Retrieved May 10, 2016, from http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/self-objectification-may-inhibit-womens-social-activism.html
The Pressure to Sext: What You Need to Know About Sexting Coercion – www.loveisrespect.org. (2015, May 14). Retrieved May 10, 2016, from http://www.loveisrespect.org/content/the-pressure-to-sext-what-you-need-to-know-about-sexting-coercion/
Bingham, J. (2014, August 20). Sexting and porn part of everyday life for teenagers. Retrieved May 10, 2016, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/sex/better-sex-education/11043935/Sexting-and-porn-part-of-everyday-life-for-teenagers.html
Hoder, R. (2014, July 3). Study Finds Most Teens Sext Before They’re 18. Retrieved May 10, 2016, from http://time.com/2948467/chances-are-your-teen-is-sexting/