Sue Scheff: Sexting, Teens and Cell Phones

I think of the title of this article says it all. Parenting today has more challenges than ever before. Being an educated parent will help you protect your teen.


By: Rina Shah, M.D. F.A.A.P
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Sexting, Teens and Cell Phones

Recently, I had a 15-year-old girl in my office. We'll call her Emma. She routinely was sexting. She was sexting many young men at the same time.Never heard the term "sexting"? You are not alone.Sexting is sending sexually explicit pictures (of yourself or another) from your computer or cell phone, to another.Teens are doing it all the time.

A study done by the National Campaign to prevent teen and unwanted pregnancy shows that approximately 20% of teens send sexually explicit pictures.

There are some experts who doubt that number. But after having asked my patients over the last month, I can say that most of my teens knew someone who had been “sexting.”

Why do teens send nude or partially nude pictures of themselves? The national campaign to prevent teen and unwanted pregnancy research indicates that some teens send pictures to people they know online (have never met), while other teens send them to people they want to hook up with. Some teens send them to boyfriends or girlfriends and end up with complications, as is the case of one young girl in Cincinnati.

This high school senior sent a picture to her boyfriend. He shared that picture with other friends. Embarrassed and possibly depressed, she ultimately committed suicide, The developmental stages of adolescence include concerns with body image and the very real influence of peers. Certainly, like alcohol and drugs, experimentation is another stage of adolescence. If one teen is doing it, it is likely that another can be pressured to do the same. Even if it were something they would not ordinarily do.

The study above states that approximately 40% of teens feel pressured to send these pictures.Unfortunately, in the wrong hands, the pictures can spread like a bad case of the flu. From one teen to another, from one school to another. After the pictures are sent and re-sent, the photographed child can be left exposed often evolving into a victim of bullying and cyperbullying.

Cyberbullying is a new phenomenon that has risen with the advances in technology.

From a 2007 report the CDC estimates that cyberbullying is still the least common form of bullying. Those numbers are likely to increase with technology rapidly becoming accessible to the masses. The repercussions of cyberbullying include low self-esteem, difficulty at school, and ultimately depression.Legal ramifications have been the most newsworthy complication of sexting. Strictly speaking, sending nude pictures of underage teens is considered child pornography, even if it is sent by the teen.

It is presumed that receivers and re-senders of these pictures also are culpable under current law. But, even so, many courts, schools and law officers are not sure what to do with complaints of sexting.Many parents are opposed to the rigorous laws that hold teens accountable for sending the pictures. A young teen journalist wrote for SF gate, "sexting itself is just not that serious." From a health perspective it can be bad. Depression, legal ramifications are just one of the few problems that come with sexting.

There are the obvious sexual issues related with sexting. Are these teens left vulnerable to sexual predators? Does sexting make them more likely to engage in sexual activity? Are these teens already engaged in sexual behaviour?

The data from the national campaign to prevent teens and unwanted pregnancy seems to indicate that sexting does make them more likely to engage in sexual behaviors.

So who is responsible for the complications of sexting: schools? parents? the law? the websites?

For now, many of these questions remain answered because this is a new phenomenon. Currently, schools and parents are blaming each other. No one quite is sure what to do. For sure, the schools and the parents need to work together in educating the teens.An important message teens need to hear, from schools and parents, comes from the National Campaign to prevent teens and unwanted pregnancy:

1.) Nothing you send is anonymous

2.) Once you click send anyone can get it.

3.) It can be illegal.So what happened to Emma?

She ran away from home with the help of the young adult male who she was sexting. He lived in another state. She stayed with him for a few weeks and engaged in sexual activity with him and another young adult male. She is back at home with her parents, without a cell phone or Internet access. And fortunately, she is without STDs or an unwanted pregnancy.

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