The Risks of Teenage Sexting and the Ways to Help Prevent the Crime
Sexting, as described by the Macquarie Dictionary Online (2010) is the sending and receiving of sexually explicit images via mobile phones. Many teens have decided to be a part of this trend. “A recent study found that 20 percent of teenagers (22 percent of girls and 18 percent of boys) sent naked or seminude images of themselves or posted them online” (Bowker, Art and Michael Sullivan 27). Once the pictures are leaked they spread at a rapid rate causing both legal and emotion effects for all adolescents involved.
The idea of exchanging or recording sexual material isn’t a new concept. Sexual material was once distributed by drawings, photographs, and videos. Then along came the internet and mobile devices, changing the game of sexual exchanges. This new way of exchanging sexual material has made it easier to send, receive, or distribute to many people. “38 percent of teen females and 39 percent of teen males report having seen messages originally intended for someone else” (Aldridge et al. 12). This change has also brought on new and harsher consequences.
Because sexting is a crime in most states, school officials are required to report sexting incidents to the police. An officer will investigate if a sexting situation is suspected. Police can then confiscate phones and computers. Anyone involved can suffer legal consequences. These consequences include child pornography charges, such as production of child pornography, distribution of child pornography, and in some states, if someone transfers a photo from a phone to a computer, he or she can also be charged with child pornography. Possible jail time may also be a factor when involved in sexting.
A mandatory registration as a sex offender is also a risk when sexting. “Registration requirements can apply to young people and extend well into adulthood” (Bowker, Art and Michael Sullivan 27). Teens may be banned from participating in extra-curricular activities, and lose educational opportunities. In addition, “the inappropriate pictures can be viewed by child predators” (Aldridge et al. 12). Fortunately, the laws involving sexting are currently changing.
The emotional trauma is not changing though. Once pictures are circulated, victims and perpetrators can be subject to humiliation and cruelty. Most suffering from serious psychological and social consequences, including depression, bullying, and suicidal thoughts and behavior. “Sexting-and the bullying associated with it is thought to be the cause of a number of suicides among teens” (Aldridge et al. 12). Often times they don’t reach out for help because of embarrassment, fear of making it worse, or fear of getting into trouble.
Thankfully there are many ways to help. Principals and teachers should provide a positive and supportive school environment to make students feel safe and engaged. They should also encourage respectful behavior and build trusting relationships with students. Providing regular presentations about the risks associated with sexting can educated teens to prevent this behavior and future victims. Educating teens and schools about the risks of sexting is one of the most important factors in preventing and changing the behavior.
School psychologists, counselors, and social workers are trained in crisis prevention, intervention, problem solving, and positive behavior supports. They can council teens who have been affected by sexting or who are at risk, working with them and their families to minimize the emotional consequences and prevent the behavior in the future. Developing appropriate training and communications to parents to encourage them to talk to their children and monitor their activities closely.
According to the National Campaign, 66 percent of adolescent girls and 60 percent of adolescent boys report participating in sexting because they think it is “fun or flirtatious”.
Forwarding anything interesting, teens may not think before sending an inappropriate picture to friends. Whatever the reason for sending or distributing sexual material, teens should be aware of the risks. Understanding the emotional, social, and physiological risks associated with sexting can help deter teens away from this behavior.
Regular interventions and presentations should help the victims of sexting and prevent future victims. Principals, teachers, and School-based mental health professionals must be aware
and well-suited to address many of the factors that can lead to sexting. Parents must remain involved in their children’s lives, not surrendering their parental oversight to a fear of technology. Young people need to learn to use technology responsibly. Everyone has a role in protecting youths, and need to fulfill that responsibility.