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Is Sexting More Common Than We Think?

By Nicola Freeman

It's almost a year since the practice of "sexting" – sending nude or explicit images via text messaging – first started making headlines. Since then, the initial media hysteria has been replaced by a mix of well-thought-out attempts to alert teens to the dangers of sexting and some not-so-helpful efforts by law enforcement to prosecute reckless teens as sex offenders.

Many of the original articles about sexting quoted a loosely conducted survey by Teenage Research Unlimited, which suggested that as many as one in five kids had sent sexy pictures of themselves to others via their cell phones. Since then, there have been various other attempts to try and quantify the size of the problem and the news is not good. It appears that sexting may be even more widespread than was first thought.

Admittedly, we have yet to see the results of another national survey on the topic but there have been plenty of teen discussion groups conducted by media outlets and child safety groups that should have parents and educators highly concerned. At almost all the discussions, participating teens have described sexting as "commonplace" and can quote numerous incidents of sexting by classmates and others.

It has also been enlightening – and sobering – to hear how teens regard the practice. "It's just a form of flirting," said one Florida teen. "Girls usually send pictures to get some guy's attention," says another teen from Illinois. "A guy might ask a girl for photos with the suggestion that it will lead to a date."

Teens are using technology to push the boundaries of flirtation, says Dr. Kathleen Boyle, a sociology professor and author of Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus. "Much like spin the bottle games utilized by a previous generation, sexting is something that teens do away from the supervision of adults. They believe it's a normal rite of passage."

Also worrying is the age of some of the teens involved. Again, informal surveys have led some educators to believe the practice is more widespread in middle school, where kids might feel more insecure as physical changes take place and more desperate to receive attention from the opposite sex. Also, the younger they are, the less judgment they have. It is common to hear stories of how older teens regretted sending explicit photos at a younger age and wouldn't dream of doing it now.

Another common reaction among teens is their bewilderment that something like sexting could lead to criminal prosecution or get them classified as a sex offender. Among older kids, there is also a certain amount of scorn for what they see as adult hypocrisy. If there were cell phone cameras back in the pot-smoking, free-love days of the 60s and 70s, they argue, parents might not be so quick to criticize today's youth for their indiscretions!

Despite the fact that all generations grow up exploring their sexuality in individual ways, things are different today. Mistakes and errors of judgment can have long-lasting and serious emotional consequences if images and videos are allowed to get into the wrong hands. Parents can't afford to wait for an incident to happen. Talk to your kids about the consequences of sexting today – before it's too late!          

Comment by Sasha, posted 6/15/2012, 1:04 AM:

Sexting can sometimes be a common form of insecurity to be honest. Some girls like to send pictures to see a guys response. And to hear how sexy you are always makes a girl feel good. Is it dangerous? Well of course, but so are a lot of things in life. Girls need to worry more about who they send them to because they have the power to show anyone and everyone.
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