In a study released this month by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), an increasing number of adolescents participate in “sexting,” which can include sending sexually explicit images of themselves or other minors by cell phone or the Internet.
Over 1,500 Internet users, ages 10 through 17, were surveyed about their experiences with appearing in, creating or receiving sexual images or videos. The study found that 2.5 percent of youth surveyed have participated in sexting in the past year. If sexting is defined as transmitting sexually suggestive images, rather than sexually explicit images, that number increases to 9.6 percent. Most kids who have participated do so as a prank or while in a relationship, and a significant number of the incidents included alcohol or drug use.
Study authors recommend that more young people are educated on the consequences of possessing or distributing sexually explicit images, which is currently treated as a criminal offense.
Experts agree that talking openly with your kids is a great way to learn how much your kids know about the topic, and an opportunity to discuss with them the potential consequences. Express how you feel in an age-appropriate, non-confrontational way. An ongoing, two-way dialog can go a long way in helping your kids understand how to minimize legal and social risks.
In many cases, kids are acting this way in response to peer pressure, in a form of cyberbullying or pressure from a boyfriend or girlfriend. Sometimes it’s impulsive behavior, blackmail, or flirting. Make sure they understand that sharing these type of images should be avoided via email and the web too – not just their cell phones. Let your kids know that in any case, this is activity they should not participate in or support.