While new technology allows our kids to keep in regular contact with friends and family, the instant (and often unsupervised) ability to connect, communicate and share has fueled the recent phenomenon of teen sexting.  This risky behavior occurs when cell phone users create and exchange provocative, nude, semi-nude (like a topless picture), sexual images of themselves online, or by using their cell phone’s built-in digital camera, computer or other connected device.

Lest you think your kid is immune to this behavior, a new study out of Texas found that over one in four teens has “sexted” a nude image of him or herself via email of text message.

The survey of 948 students ages 14 to 19 (in grades 9, 10 and 11) found that twenty-eight percent of the sample reported having sent a naked picture of himself or herself through text or e-mail (sext), and 31% reported having asked someone for a sext. There was no significant difference between boys (27.8%) and girls (27.5%) in the proportion of teens who reported having sent a sext. However, girls (68.4%) more often reported having been asked to send a sext compared with boys (42.1%).   Boys were significantly more likely than girls to report having asked someone for a sext (46% and 21%, respectively).

Adolescents who engaged in sexting behaviors were more likely to have begun dating and to have had sex than those who did not sext. For girls, sexting was also associated with risky sexual behaviors such as having multiple sex partners and using drugs or alcohol before sex.  The results suggest that teen sexting is prevalent and potentially indicative of teens’ sexual behaviors.

In my own work to protect kids online, I have certainly seen an anecdotal connection between teen sexting and pornography exposure as well as teen sexting and an unregulated media diet.  When kids have easy access to pornography or when they grow up on a steady diet of movies and TV shows with sexual themes and scenes, it’s only natural that they will want to imitate what they see and push the limits sexually in their own lives.

It’s important for parents to understand that this activity can have series psychological and legal consequences, and every parent needs to communicate with their kids about this risky behavior.  Additionally, it’s critical for parents to use filters on their home computers (like our X3watchPRO or Parental Controls offered via Safe Eyes) and all Internet-enabled devices while also better regulating and monitoring the media content that your kids are taking in (via magazines, TV shows, movies, music, etc.) and engage in regular discussions about what is and what isn’t acceptable behavior.

We also developed a simple guide on sexting in the “Critical Issues” section of our site (click on the PDF for the full version) and a video (in the upper right hand corner) that you should definitely check out and share with your friends, with key points being to:

  • Talk with your kids about sexting.
  • Understand that there are serious legal consequences.
  • Talk to your kids about the emotional and peer-related consequences
  • Know who your child is communicating with online and through their mobile device.
  • Consider placing limits on electronic communication.
  • Measure your response if you’ve learned that they’ve slipped up.