Teens & Cellphones: Sexting – A Primer Part IV

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by Lori Cunningham

This is the final post of a four part series entitled Teens & Cellphones – A Primer. The previous posts, Teens & Cellphones – A Primer Part I, Teens & Cellphones: Manners A Primer Part II, Teens & Cellphones: Safety – A Primer Part III, are published.

Teens and sexting - a closer look
Sexting occurs when a person sends a text message to another that contains a message of a sexual nature or a sexually suggestive, nude, or partially nude picture or video.  Sexting is gaining popularity amongst adults and teens.  LG Mobile Phones conducted a survey in 2009 asking teens and their parents a number of questions about their cellphones.  LG found:

What Teens are Sexting

  • 43% of teens admitted to using some form of sexting
  • 28% of parents admitted to using some form of sexting
  • 22% of teens have received a naked picture – 12% of them forwarded it
  • 41% of teens have received, sent, or forwarded a text that said something sexual
  • Only 11% of parents thought their teen had ever sexted




In a According to a study on teens the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy conducted in 2008:
  • 20% of teens admitted to sending naked or near naked pictures of themselves in text messages
  • 39% of teens admitted to sending sexually suggestive messages to someone (notice 39% in 2008, but 43% in 2009 – this alarming trend is growing)
  • 33% of teen boys and 25% of teen girls said they have had nude/semi-nude pics —originally meant to be private—shared with them

Why Teens Sext


When asked why teens are sending sexting messages, the top reasons were:

  • to be “fun or Flirtatious”
  • to give a “sexy  present” to their boyfriend/girlfriend
  • as a “joke”
  • to “feel sexy”
  • they felt pressured

When asked further about using their cellphones,

  • 22% of teens felt that technology helps them to be more forward and aggressive
  • 38% believe that exchanging sexual content makes dating or hooking up with others more likely
  • 29% feel that exchanging sexual messages are “expected” to date or hook up

Sexting as the Norm?

You can see from these statistics that our teens are feeling tremendous pressure to “fit” in.  New social norms are being created in how teens communicate, flirt, and date each other.  Passing notes to each other has never been so personal; and yet have such a great possibility of the message becoming widespread in such a short period.

“That so many young people say technology is encouraging an even more casual, hook-up culture is reason for concern, given the high rates of teen and unplanned pregnancy in the United States,” said Marisa Nightingale, Senior Advisor to the Entertainment Media Program at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. “Parents should understand that their own notions of what’s public, what’s private, and what’s appropriate, may differ greatly from how teens and young adults define these concepts.” Susan Schulz, Special Projects Editor, Hearst Magazines. (1.)

Sexting is becoming so prevalent that “1 in 4 teens feel that many people sext and there’s nothing wrong with it.”  (LG Survey).  It’s safe to assume that if this question is asked of teens in a few years, the number of teens feeling this way will be even higher.  What at first seems so shocking minimizes over time as teens receive more sexting messages.

Dangers of Sexting

Sexting can lead to many unanticipated situations:

  • embarrassment – as the picture/message is sent across town
  • stalkers– wanting to see more of what they saw in your forwarded sext message
  • isolation – from others who thought your sext was inappropriate
  • desperation– as you continue to send sext messages to get someone’s attention
  • depression– if the person receiving your sext message does not respond
  • date rape – you finally begin dating someone and they thought you wanted more
  • job loss – pictures and messages don’t disappear – they are always lurking;  Employers are looking for mature responsible workers
  • college admission decline – colleges are checking applicants online to decrease number of disruptive students
  • cellphone loss– your parents will likely take your cellphone away if they find out about your sexting
  • unsolicited pictures sent  back from others who “received” your sext
  • charges pressed– from others who found your sext offensive
  • jail time – pictures of under-aged children (under the age of 18) are considered child pornography and are illegal

The list can go on.  What might start as a private message or joke between two teens can rapidly spread like wildfire across schools, towns, counties, states, even countries.  If a teacher or school administrator sees the sexually explicit picture in a sext, they are required by law to report it to the authorities.  Likewise, as a parent, if you observe anything potential illegal, you have a responsibility to report it to the police.  As adults, we know and feel the pressure of doing the right thing.  Teens need to be taught and warned about the repercussions of their actions and be reminded that nothing is “private” when sent electronically.

There have been numerous stories where teens have been arrested and/or jailed on charges of child pornography.  I read countless articles and news story videos in my research where these teens’ lives have been destroyed as a result of sending a “private” sext message.

” Pictures traded with a click of a button can change a teen’s life forever.”   (Gigi Stone, ABC News)

Important Texting Acronyms to Know

Teens utilize acronyms to

1.) make it easier and faster to send a text

2.) hide incriminating words from parents or others who might read it

Here’s a few acronyms to give you an idea:

MOS Mom over Shoulder

  • P911 Parent Alert
  • RUH Are Your Horney?

GYPO Get Your Pants Off

The list of acronyms are exhaustive.  To help parents decipher text messages better, I scoured the Internet to find some resources.  Here are some of the best resources I found:

    Hopefully it’s unlikely your teen is using any of these acronyms or type of words in their texts.  I am posting them as a reference.

A Mom’s Perspective

One action you can take to safety steer your teen through their tempestuous teen years is to regularly check their text messages.  Be sure to review all sent and received messages.  It’s important to note that teens can and will delete messages at times – as they most likely know that you are reviewing their phone periodically.   Nonetheless it’s important  for them to see that you are checking their phones so they can be more aware of the use of their phone.

I have heard that it is possible for a parent to obtain a report from their cellphone company to see all the texts sent and received from an owned cellphone number.  To verify this, I called Verizon.  Verizon informed me that this is incorrect.  By law, they cannot disclose personal information sent  via text.  The only information available is the timing of when the text was sent or received and to which phone number.  Nonetheless, I’ve heard from several parents that they threaten their kids with this “report’ as a measure to remind them to keep their e-mail’s clean.

When you give your child his/her first cellphone it is best to alert your him/her upfront that the cellphone:

  • belongs to the parents – your teen is just ‘borrowing it”
  • must be available for spot checks by the parents
  • might be used as “evidence” to ensure message offenders do not repeat inappropriate  behavior
  • must not be “locked” without giving the passcode to the parents first
    Some parents believe that checking their teen’s cellphone is an invasion of privacy or is not needed because their teen is a good kid.  I disagree.  Looking at the statistics above, it is more than likely that our children will receive sexting messages.  Even “good”  kids can be led astray from peer pressure.  Based on the dangers discussed, there’s too much at risk to NOT check your teen’s phone.It’s imperative that parents talk to their teens about the risks and consequences of their actions.   Decisions to send or forward a sext message today can haunt your teen many years in the future.  Teach your teen to treat others with respect and integrity while in person, on the phone, or through text messages – the medium should not matter.  Doing so will keep your teen out of trouble and possible humiliation.

It is my hope that this series on Teens and Cellphones has at least provided you with some food for thought, if not a springboard in discussing some of these tips with your teen.  Remember, our children are watching everything we do.  We are the best examples on how act responsibly.

(1.)  http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/sextech/PDF/SexTech_PressReleaseFIN.pdf

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