Technology has opened many doors for teens today. Social media can help them communicate with friends, coordinate class assignments, research projects and connect with interests in their community. Smart phones make it easier for parents to keep tabs on their teens, and the ability to text means there is seldom a communications lag.

Unfortunately, technology also has a darker side. Many parents are aware of threats like online predators and social media bullying. Unfortunately, one of the most concerning trends can result in your teen being both a victim – and an offender.

Sexting – sharing sexualized digital photos with others through text, email or social media, often cell phone to cell phone – is gaining speed among young adults.  In a 2008 survey of 1,280 teenagers and young adults of both sexes sponsored by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 20 percent of teens (13-20) had sent nude or semi-nude photographs of themselves electronically. Additionally, 39 percent of teens had sent sexually explicit text messages.

Teens are by nature impulsive and not mature enough to understand or consider the long-lasting impact of their actions. Though snapped and shared in seconds, these images can be a blight on the lives of both the sender and receiver for years to come.

If your teen shares a sext with her significant other, she probably assumes it will be kept private. Unfortunately, it is all too easy for these messages to go viral, being sent from teen to teen or sometimes even posted publically to personal blogs or social media sites. This can have a huge negative impact on your teen’s self esteem, resulting in feelings of shame, embarrassment, depression and betrayal. Externally, sexting can also damage her social environment, creating the potential for exclusion, problems at school and a damaged reputation.

In some instances, the ramifications can extend beyond social harm. Parents and teens alike need to understand that sexting can result in criminal charges that can follow them into adulthood. Sexting that involves a minor sending an explicit photograph of herself to her peers is considered distribution of child pornography – even if the photo subject and photo distributor are the same person. Some teenagers who have texted photographs of themselves, or of their friends or partners, have been charged with distribution of child pornography, while those who have received the images have been charged with possession of child pornography.

To protect your teen, parents must discuss sexting well before it actually becomes a real issue. Create an environment of openness with your daughter – encourage her to come to you with questions and concerns, no matter what the topic. Establish clear rules and expectations for her behavior when using social media or cell phones, and create set consequences for missteps, like losing access to her Facebook account, or taking away her phone. Monitor usage, and intervene immediately if you suspect your teen is participating in inappropriate chatter or image sharing.

Perhaps more importantly, though, talk to your teen about self-respect. Remind her of the importance of modesty and upholding her values – even when her developing feelings of sexuality and the confusing emotions of adolescence provide distractions.

To learn more about how to talk to your teen about texting, contact us today.