What you do know about your teenage children: when they need money and if their smart phone is broken. What you may not know: if they are using their smart phones for “sexting,” that is, asking for or sending nude photos or other explicit content. “Not my kid,” you’re thinking. Are you sure? Did you ask? The answer might surprise you.
Girls experience intense social pressure to sext. Research has found that boys are nearly four times as likely to pressure girls to send sexts as girls are to pressure boys to do so. A new study from the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University illustrates the sexting stress that many girls are facing. It’s based on an analysis of almost 500 accounts posted between 2010 and 2016 by 12- to 18-year-old girls. These posts were obtained from A Thin Line, MTV’s campaign against sexting, cyber bullying, and digital dating abuse.
Over two thirds of the girls had been asked to send nude pictures under intense pressure. The requests usually started with promises of affection, but progressed to “persistent requests, anger displays, harassment and threats.” Unfortunately, most of these young women ended up sending the pictures. The girls were largely unable to figure out alternative tactics, and how to resist the threats and pressure.
Just the other day, I heard an Ad Council public service radio clip from 2009 demonstrating how much pressure a teenager may be under. Although social media technology has changed, the message is just as relavant today — and the truth is often said in jest:
(Imagine typing sounds intermixed with Instant Messenger alert sounds) Thanks for asking, but I’d rather not send you nude pictures…I’m camera shy…I already said no…It’s against my religion…I’m giving my dog a bath. You can have pictures of that…Pressure gives me hives…Hold on, let me ask my mom…Sorry, my webcam is broken… If they got out, I might never be President…I’m already naked, under my clothes…
The voice over then says: “When someone is pressuring you to do something you don’t want to, how many ways can you say ‘no’ before they get the message? Let us know at ThatsNotCool.com.” You can listen to the ad here with your teens, and use it to start a conversation.
Sexting has emotional and legal consequences for askers and senders. In talking about sexting with both daughters and sons, a recent New York Times blog post suggests that parents should emphasize that either asking for or sending explicit content can result in emotional and legal consequences. States without laws specifically addressing sexting can use child pornography statutes, which can deliver severe penalties for soliciting, enticing or encouraging the creation of explicit content.
My advice: Clearly, resisting sexting pressures is not something teenagers typically learn to do in their schools or in their homes. Here’s where we come in. When our children were young we talked about “good touch, bad touch” and told them to tell a responsible adult immediately if there was ever a problem.
Now, with our older children, we need to apply theses basic principles and talk about “good text, bad text”. It takes two in sexting— an asker and a sender — so we really need to talk about it from both sides and, literally, role-play reacting to various social pressures. That brings me back to these great online resources, which you can visit with your teen:
ThatsNotCool.com is a public education initiative “that partners with young people to help raise awareness and bring educational and organizing tools to communities to address dating violence, unhealthy relationships and digital abuse.” It was developed by Futures Without Violence with the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women and the Advertising Council.
A Thin Line is MTV’s campaign against sexting, cyber bullying and digital dating abuse.