Recent research indicates that at least one-fifth of teens in the U.S. have either been the recipient or sender of a sexted message on their cell phone. In a post from the Hartford Courant, the focus is shifted away from teen behavior and moved toward parents’ roles in monitoring the age at which their child receives a cell phone and what type of data service the child can access.
Experts continually warn parents that teen sexting – sending naked or sexually-oriented images of themselves or of other teens via cell phones – is dangerous and can have lifelong consequences. Recent studies have indicated that teens who sext have a higher rate of psychological distress, depression or attempt suicide more often than other teens. Teens who sext may also have a higher likelihood of being the victims of cyberbullying, especially when their sexted photos are used as blackmail or shared via multiple platforms across the Internet.
To combat rising levels of sexting, parents are urged to keep talking with their teens about the risks and dangers of sexting. Filters that can download to a secure web site the photos a teen’s phone contains are also available, and parents are encouraged to have limits on teens’ talking and texting plans to discourage their ability to send and receive sexted photos.
A recent book called “Exposure,” written by Therese Fowler, talks about how a teen is affected when sexted photos of a romantic partner become grounds for legal charges of child pornography – a situation that has already happened to U.S. teens. Other dangers include sexted photos ending up in chat conversations with adults that teens may befriend on social media sources, and then the adults can begin to progress the relationship toward a real-life sexual encounter.
State laws vary on whether or not teen sexting constitutes child pornography or lesser charges, but the consequences of sending or receiving sexual photos can follow a teen for their entire lifetime. Having honest conversations about sexting and establishing serious rules for cell phone use may help parents divert teens away from this dangerous and devastating trend.