Dictionary.com defines sexting as the sending of sexually explicit photos, images, text messages, or e-mails through a cell phone or other mobile device.
Studies have disagreed with respect to the prevalence of sexting in teen populations. Prevalence rates range from 4%, in the 2009 Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project on Teens and Sexting to 59% in the June 2014 study from Drexel University entitled Youth Sexting: Prevalence Rates, Driving Motivations, and the Deterrent Effect of Legal Consequences. Regardless of the actual prevalence, most studies report that a significantly higher number of teens have received a “sext” then has sent one. So either way, a significant number have teens have been exposed to a sext at some point. Most studies have also found that as age increases, the prevalence of sexting increases too.
Florida State Statute 847.0141 provides consequences for sexting that begin with a noncriminal violation punishable by community service or a fine and progresses to a third degree felony for a third offence. Note, however, that sexts created by teens can be considered child pornography. Penalties for adults caught with child pornography are significantly heftier.
What Can You Do To Prevent Sexting?
Due to the devastatingly negative consequences of sexting, it becomes all the more necessary to prevent teens from sexting before it is too late.
Netsmartz provides these tips to help protect children from sexting
- Before buying your child a cell phone, set rules for its use, including what sort of information and images are appropriate to share via text.
- Know what safeguards are available on your child’s phone, such as turning off and/or blocking texting and picture features.
- Talk to your child about the possible social, academic, and legal consequences of sexting. They could face humiliation, lose educational opportunities, and get in trouble with the law.
- Encourage your child to not be a bystander or an instigator. If he or she receives a “sext,” discuss why it is important that he or she not forward the image to anyone else.
- Remind your child that they can talk to you if they receive a nude picture on their cell phone.
- Talk to your child’s school about its policies on cell phones, cyberbullying, and sexting.
- Report any nude or semi-nude images that your child receives to law enforcement or contact cybertipline.com.
Common Sense Media provides these additional tips for caregivers.
- Don’t wait for an incident to happen to your child or your child’s friend before you talk about the consequences of sexting. Sure, talking about sex or dating with teens can be uncomfortable, but it’s better to have the talk before something happens.
- Remind your kids that once an image is sent, it can never be retrieved -- and they will lose control of it. Ask teens how they would feel if their teachers, parents, or the entire school saw the picture, because that happens all the time.
- Talk about pressures to send revealing photos. Let teens know that you understand how they can be pushed or dared into sending something. Tell them that no matter how big the social pressure is, the potential social humiliation can be hundreds of times worse.
- Teach your children that the buck stops with them. If someone sends them a photo, they should delete it immediately. It’s better to be part of the solution than the problem. Besides, if they do send it on, they're distributing pornography -- and that’s against the law.
- Check out ThatsNotCool.com. It’s a fabulous site that gives kids the language and support to take texting and cell phone power back into their own hands. It’s also a great resource for parents who are uncomfortable dealing directly with this issue.
To educate students and families about the dangers of sexting, the State of Texas has created the online course Before You Text.