The dangers a child could experience online are many. They range from cyberbullying, scams, blackmail, kidnapping, and more. But today, we’re focusing on teen sexting.
8 to 39 percent of 12- to 16-year-old kids received a sext, according to EU Kids Online. The study also showed 4 to 30 percent of kids didn’t tell anyone about their negative experiences.
However, the proportion of children who reported a negative experience rose with age. That illustrates younger children aren’t mature enough to understand and report these situations. The survey participants were 9 to 16-year-old kids across 19 countries.
As a parent, learning about sexting and why kids do it is essential. It will help you protect and guide your children.
What Is Sexting?
UNICEF defines sexting as the self-production and sharing of sexualized messages. It’s a combination of the words “sex” and “texting.”
What Does Sexting Involve?
The term sexting is broad and often includes sending and receiving:
- Nude or seminude pictures
- Explicit videos (masturbation, erotic dances, simulations)
- Suggestive texts containing sexual words and phrases
This explicit content usually comes through several platforms:
- Messaging apps such as iMessage, WhatsApp, Telegram, Skype, and WeChat
- Social media apps like Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, and Snapchat
- Gaming platforms, such as Steam and Google Stadia
Why Do Teens Sext?
Messaging and social media apps have made it easier and faster for teens to engage in sexting. A survey of over 5,500 students to determine the nature and extent of sexting found 13 percent had sent a sext. 18.5 percent had received one. Another investigation reported similar results. 14.8 percent sent a sext, and 27.4 percent had received one.
So enough teens are doing it, but why? After all, the consequences for inappropriate texting are high. It even includes potential legal ramifications.
The primary reasons for teen sexting include:
Curiosity and Sexual Exploration
During puberty, it’s normal for kids to feel curious about their sexual identity. But that curiosity increases if the child doesn’t receive integral sexual education. And when parents and teachers don’t handle it the right way, teens turn to friends and the Internet. Teen sexting then becomes a way for the child to explore sexuality. But they often end up believing it’s the accurate way.
Popularity and Validation
Teens sending nudes has become normal and a new popularity standard. As teenagers grow and form relationships, many develop unhealthy needs for validation. Plus, teens crave acceptance from those they like and other peers. So if the popular teens in school are sexting, then others will follow.
Sexting can be a route to acceptance for many. The child confuses this dangerous and unsafe approach with a natural way to flirt. Most don’t know about the upsetting consequences of inappropriate texting.
They Believe It’s Fun and Safe
Teen sexting is one of the primary “fun” activities in practice today. While sexting feels dangerous, many teens enjoy that vulnerability. Teenagers also sext when they believe it’s safe. Sending erotic messages back and forth can make anyone believe the content is in safe hands. After all, the other party is sexting as well.
That blind trust creates a risky situation, especially if it’s teen girls sexting. According to the University of Gothenburg, girls have more negative experiences with sexting.
Is Sexting Legal?
At least 42 states in the U.S. have regulations about sending and receiving sexual content. And more than 20 states address minors engaged in sexting or revenge porn. In Connecticut, 13- to 16-year-old teenagers can’t own or send child pornography to peers. In Australia, it’s illegal to send sext with anyone under 18 years of age (or looks under the age of 18).
So it depends on where you live. However, even if sexting is legal in the area it occurs, other laws may overlap. As a result, legal ramifications are still possible.
What Are the Dangers of Sexting?
With the increased use of messaging apps, sexting is more common than ever among teens. However, normalizing the action makes teenagers forget about the possible dreadful outcomes. Some of the dangers include:
Losing Control of the Content
The most dangerous consequence of sexting is losing control of the content. Once a kid sends an explicit text, picture, or video, the content can appear anywhere. That’s because the receiver can easily duplicate the content and redistribute it. As a result, the child can experience the following.
A Ruined Reputation
A teenager’s reputation is essential for academic and social reasons. Research shows 35 percent of admission officers check social media sites. Also, if the child’s sensitive content goes viral, their relationships can become difficult. Friends and partners will typically distance themselves or set boundaries.
Children may become victims of bullying once explicit content is out in the open. The affected child may experience body shaming, threats, unwanted attention, and injuries.
Sexting may lead to anxiety, peer pressure, low self-esteem, shame, and depression. In particular, sexting under coercion or receiving unwanted sexts can produce psychological distress.
One BBC article revealed how girls aged 13 experienced extortion via sexting. Predators often blackmail children into keeping them in a sexting cycle. These people take advantage of the fact children are often more relaxed online. The offender often pretends to be younger until the child sends the explicit content. From there, the blackmail begins.
What Should Parents Do?
Finding out a child has been sexting is upsetting for any parent. But the anxiety and fear that can arise from such a situation may cause missed steps. So you must remain calm and allow patience and understanding to prevail.
Some of the things you can do include:
Talk To Your Child
Ignoring the situation will make it worse. So approach your teen with an honest and educational conversation. But make sure you hear their side of the story. Listen and try to understand the reasons behind the act. But maintain your composure.
Remember that a child’s mind is less mature, so don’t judge. Instead, show compassion, understanding, and love. Make your child feel comfortable having conversations with you about it.
Ask Who or What Led Your Child to Sext
After listening to your child, ask how they got into sexting. Often, teens send sexual messages because of peer pressure and blackmail. They may also believe sexting is a healthy way to flirt. During the process, it’s crucial only to ask relevant questions. That may help your child feel comfortable enough to share the reasons.
Explain The Consequences of Sexting
Teens tend to get caught up in the rush of the moment. That also means they are unlikely to think thoroughly about the consequences. You can calmly explain to your child the risks of sexting. However, try not to make the explanation sound like a reprimand. Instead, give examples of possible situations.
Explain The Legal Consequences
Mentioning the legal consequences of sexting to your child is essential. It can significantly alter how they view the activity. Focus on the severity of the potential consequences. Ensure your child is aware of regulations regarding sexting.
Delete The Messages
Deleting the sexual content your kid has sent and received is one way to leave the situation behind. But you also have to talk to the other person’s parents to ensure they delete the content. That approach should work in most cases, except if involving law enforcement. In such instances, deleting the messages might not help or support your case. It might be better to preserve the messages as evidence.
Talk About Healthy Sexuality
Consider talking to your teen about healthy sexuality. Children view parents as credible and valuable sources of information. So your child is likely to feel comfortable discussing the topic with you. That’s because you already have a trusting and loving relationship.
Let your child know feeling the need to explore their sexuality is normal. But emphasize the importance of sexual privacy. Depending on your kid’s age, you may also want to discuss deeper topics, such as contraception. Various resources can help make this process easier. You can find them online or offline.
Install A Parental Control App
Sexting can take place on several messaging and social media platforms. That makes it tough for parents to keep track and ensure their child’s safety. This is why many use parental control apps, such as MMGuardian. It will help you track your child’s digital activities and more.
For example, you can restrict screen time, monitor messages, and receive alerts. The app uses AI to scan text messages and will issue a “Sexting” Safety Alert as applicable. It can also scan pictures saved on your children’s phone and alert you if any appear to be sexual in nature.
MMGuardian enables lots to protect children, and there are plenty of resources for parents.
Limit Screen Usage
Setting screen usage limits can help reduce the likelihood of teen sexting. And while it’s not full-proof, there are other benefits. Less screen time also means children can explore their sexuality the right way. In addition, they can spend more time socializing in person and creating more human connections. The child will also have more spare time to engage in other things like exercise, sports, etc.
Learn Teen Slang
Studies suggest teens use slang to reinforce social identity. They use it to feel like members of a group, and slangs change with time. What was cool may become old-fashioned quickly and be replaced by something new. That’s why you should make an effort to understand the slang teens use. It can help you figure out what your kids are up to, including identifying trouble early.