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Feature Article


Teens and Technology: Sexting

Kim Allen, Ph.D., MFT, former director, Center on Adolescent Sexuality, Pregnancy & Parenting, former state specialist, Human Development & Family Studies, University of Missouri Extension


Sexting — text messages or images sent with cell phones and computers — is an alarming trend among teenagers. Some teens consider sexting a harmless flirtation, but it’s becoming a serious problem. Teens have been embarrassed, harassed, expelled from school and even convicted on charges of child pornography for sending and receiving such items.


In a study conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 22 percent of teen girls between the ages of 13 and 19 have sent or posted nude or semi-nude photos of themselves, and 39 percent of all teens have reported sending sexually suggestive messages. More than two-thirds of teens sending these messages say the content is intended for their boyfriends or girlfriends, but teens also report sending images to someone they wish to date or someone they met online.


Many teens do not realize that once they hit the send button, they lose control over those images or messages. Nearly half of the teens in this study reported that it is common for messages to be shared among friends. Seventy-five percent of the teens say they believe sharing these messages can have negative consequences. The majority, however, say they participate in sexting because it is “fun or flirtatious” or because they want to send someone a “sexy present.”


Parents need to know that there are real consequences for sexting. In many states, sending nude images of someone under the age of 18 is considered pornography and kids are facing serious consequences for sending sexual images. As a parent, there are several things you can do to help your teen make smart texting choices.


Talk to your kids

  • Ask them what kind of messages they send.
  • Let your teen know what is suitable and what is inappropriate or illegal.
  • Talk to your teen about the consequences of sending sexual images or messages.
  • Let your teen know they can’t control what happens to a text once it is sent. Encourage them to make good choices about what images and content to include in their text messages.
  • Talk to teens about your values on sexual activity.


Monitor the use of technology

  • Keep technology in a central room in the home, especially at night.
  • Know what websites your teen frequents and who they text.
  • Install software with parental controls and block inappropriate sites.
  • Become friends with your teen on all their social network forums.
  • Be in control of all passwords and protections for the cell phone.


The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Sex and tech: Results from a survey of teens and young adults.


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Last Updated: 09/21/2012