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Teen Sexting: How Much Should We Worry?

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Last week, the Pew Research Center released the results of a study about teens sexting and the findings show that teens are doing it more than you may think.

First, what is sexting? It's a word popping up in the media for months now, and it's a word used to describe sending sexually suggestive or nearly naked pictures to someone through text messages.

Teens ages 12-17 were surveyed nationally: 4 percent of teens that owned cell phones said they had sexted someone. 15 percent of teens said they had sent suggestive pictures of other people to someone through text message. 8 percent of 17-year olds had sexted and 30 percent had received suggestive text messages. More teens who pay for their own phone bills are likely to send sexts.

The Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project also found that teens typically use sexting in three situations: to exchange images between romantic partners, to share these exchanges with other people and to exchange images with someone they are hoping to be in a romantic partnership with.

Past research has shown that more and more teens own cell phones and text: 75 percent have cell phones and over 60 percent text. It's a regular part of life to be on the go and constantly stay in communication with others, but sexting suggests that this communication is being used to socialize sexually as well.

Why does it matter what young people send to other people on the privacy of their own phones? Because these nearly naked photographs are of minors and the technology makes it easy to share, instantly. You only have to turn on the television to see how politicians and celebrities have had their relationships smeared in the media because of text messages. One bad break up between a teen and their partner and you could have nearly naked photos of yourself posted on the internet.

The laws around sexting are still being formulated, and vary depending on jurisdiction. Some district attorneys and law officials are prosecuting teenagers for distributing what could legally be constituted as child pornography.

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Sadly, this is more common than I thought it was. Just last week my thirteen year old niece told me that a girl in her school was ridiculed and then arrested for "sexting". It seems as though she thought it would be hot to send a full body nude photo of herself to a boy but little did she realize that that boy would forward that text to his friends, his friends to their friends, and so on. It is such an embarrassing and traumatizing experience for any teen to go through. The school administration ended up telling everyone who had the picture in their phone that they would also be prosecuted for child pornography if the photo was not immediately deleted.

I feel terrible for the girl, but at 13 I remember being smart enough not to do such a dumb thing. She just didn't analyze the consequences. I think she served well as an example for all the other teens who thought about doing it or have done it and gotten away with it.

December 22, 2009 - 5:54am
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