Sexting was first reported in the United Kingdom in 2005.
Since then, the term has been embraced by the media, and also by teenagers and young adults.
What is Sexting?
Sexting is described as the practice of creating, sharing, sending or posting sexually suggestive or explicit messages or images via the internet or mobile phone (2).
In a document from the Parliament of Australia (2011), one section states that “about 10 percent of young people had sent nude photos of themselves by mobile phone. However, numbers rose from Year 9 so that by Year 11, about 17 percent had sent such photos’’ (3).
Other research has found that the number of young people sending nude photos online is significantly higher. A study published in IkeepSafe (4), showed that 20% of teens (13 to 19 years old) have electronically sent or posted online nude or semi-nude picture/video of themselves, rising to 33% of young adults (aged 20 to 26).
Studies on the subject are still recent and results may vary. But, the numbers show that sexting is here and that teenagers and young people are sending nude pictures, forgetting or not realising the impact this could potentially have down the track …
Why are Teenagers Sexting?
There are many reasons why teenagers send naked or semi-naked material on the web or via mobile phone, including:
- Being in love;
- Being under pressure from others in a “dare game’’;
- Curiosity; and
- “Wanting to fit in” is commonly reported to me during therapy sessions.
As Lohmann (2012) explains, teenagers do not think like adults. “There is a special part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex that is responsible for problem solving, impulse control, and weighing out options. Unfortunately for teens, this area of the brain is not fully developed. In fact it does not fully mature until the early to mid-twenties.”
What Happens to the Photos?
Once a photo is sent or posted online, the teenager loses all control over it. Pictures can then be shared, “screen shotted”, published and used by many people. It is important for teenagers to realise that the picture they send now to a friend, may potentially be shared at a later date and end up in a stranger’s hands, or sent to their school. Once it is out there, there is no knowing where it will end up: “88 percent of self-generated images are collected and put on other sites’’ (7).
Potential Impacts of Sexting
Although it only takes a split second to send or upload these pictures, they can have damaging effects for a long period of time. Studies show it can potentially impact on career prospects or become very public if an intimate relationship deteriorates. For instance, according to one American study (4), 70% of recruiters and human resources professionals said they had rejected candidates for jobs based on information found online; while only 7% of consumers thought that their online information would affect their job prospects.
The reality is that sexting can lead to:
- Public humiliation;
- Being ridiculed;
- Cyber-bullying and cyber-stalking (cyber-stalkers use internet to cause another person to feel apprehensive and fearful);
- Sexual assault;
- Feeling guilty, ashamed and sometimes fearful;
- Negative impact on self esteem;
- Losing friendship/s;
- Damage to reputation;
- Being expelled from school;
- Getting in trouble with parents/family (trust issue is often a problem reported);
- Getting in trouble with the justice system and the risk of receiving charges for child pornography.
Tips for Parents
Parents can help prevent and avert sexting and any associated problems by:
- Talking to their teenager about sexting and the dangers/consequences;
- Explaining to their teen that sending naked or semi-naked pictures online is illegal in Australia, and may be considered as child pornography;
- Following their teen on social media accounts such as Twitter and Instagram, and being a silent friend on Facebook;
- Warning them about sexual predadors. Too many young people believe that they are chatting/sending materials to people their own age, when in reality it could be anybody;
- Warning their teens to think before they act;
- Being supportive, understanding, and keeping the lines of communication open.
Tips for Teenagers
If you are a teenager, here are some tips just for you:
- Think twice before you post images or comments online!
- Remember that sexting is illegal and that you could get in trouble with the law;
- Do not share any naked pictures you may receive. Remember that this person may well already regret their act so delete it straight away;
- If you are under pressure and someone is asking you to send a nude or topless picture of yourself, don’t be embarrassed and talk to a trusted adult about it;
- If you have already been sexting, you may be experiencing lots of different feelings right now. You can talk to a trusted adult, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or seek support from a professional such as a psychologist or school counsellor.
- Don’t give in to peer pressure, think about yourself, say “NO”.
If your teenager has been involved in sexting and is now finding it difficult to deal with the consequences, feel free to book an appointment with me in order to discuss your concerns and how we can help your teen.
Meggy Delaunay is a psychologist who primarily works with children, adolescents and young adults. She is a registered Psychologist in Australia, New Zealand and France, and can provide therapy sessions in English and French.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.