Is your teen "sexting"? Do you know what it is? Chances are your teen does.
A recent MTV and Associated Press poll found more than a quarter of teens and tweens admit to having engaged in "sexting" - the exchange of sexually explicit material via cell phone, email or social networking posts. The poll also indicated that 61 percent of those who have sent sexually explicit messages or photos did so because they were pressured by someone to send the images.
Teenage girls are more likely to send photos than teen boys, but the population of "sexters" is equally split among teens who are sexually active and those who are not. Sexting can be a result of cyber bulling, peer pressure, perceived innocent flirtation or a simple exchange between two romantic partners gone awry. However it occurs, sexting can have lasting and severe consequences.
Recent media reports have linked two teen suicides to sexting. Last spring a middle school student in Florida sent nude photos to a boy she liked that were forwarded to the entire school. The psychological and social torture that ensued allegedly led to her suicide in September. A similar situation happened in Cincinnati, Ohio, when an 18-year-old committed suicide after nude photos she had sent to her boyfriend were viewed by many of her teenage friends.
That situation is not unusual; according to the MTV and Associated Press poll, 17 percent of those who had received naked images had forwarded them to someone else.
The problem for parents is that, developmentally, teens cannot imagine the potentially devastating results of sexting. Exchanging sexual text messages and photos is quickly becoming a romantic ritual of dating.
But the consequences of sending or receiving sexual images are severe. There is the emotional fallout - being the victim of a prank, being pressured to send a "sext" or sending one in a bid for attention can lead to depression and social outcasting.
But there also can be criminal consequences, including potential charges of child pornography for possessing sexually explicit photos of minors - and a lifetime of registering as a sex offender.
Parents and caregivers of teens need to provide accurate and powerful information about the consequences of sexting.