The Dangers of Sexting

By: Dr. Lillian Carson
QUESTION: A few weeks ago, I spent the afternoon with Lauren, my 15-year-old granddaughter. While I was there, her cell phone rang constantly and she was preoccupied with writing and receiving text messages. At last, exasperated, she began to cry and told me that her boyfriend won’t leave her alone. He not only calls all the time to check her whereabouts but he is also demanding she send him, via her cell phone, nude photos of herself. She claims she doesn’t think this is “weird,” but she’s clearly confused. I want to help her, but I’m not entirely sure I understand what’s going on here.

ANSWER: The act of sharing nude and explicit images or messages via text on a cell phone is called sexting. Warren County, Ohio, prosecutor Rachel Hutzel states the problem clearly: “We are watching a collision course between technology and teen judgment. We’ve got to protect kids from this technology. They don’t get it, but we do.”

Your granddaughter has become a victim of abusive behavior, and her willingness to confide in you is a plea for guidance. You are right to take this behavior seriously, as the implications are far reaching.

One underage girl who posted nude photos of herself has been arrested for child pornography. Another, who finally gave in and sent her boyfriend a nude photo, was publicly humiliated after they broke up and he sent the photo to hundreds of other people as retribution. A third girl, caught in a similar situation, committed suicide.

A recent study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy reports that one in five teenage girls say they’ve posted nude or seminude images of themselves online. (It is reported that 40 percent of teenage boys have seen at least one nude photo of a classmate.) Most kids, titilated by sexual attention, are naive about the ramifications of their behavior.

As a grandmother, you need to help Lauren to find the courage to tell her parents. They must be aware, supportive and vigilant.

This is also an opportunity for you to educate yourself and your granddaughter about the dangers of sexting. Explain that her boyfriend’s relentless demands are cyberbullying, and that if her feelings were important to him, if he respected her, he would stop making inappropriate demands. It is likely he says such timeworn cliches – from our own pasts – as “If you loved me, you would do this for me,” a duplicitous message that confuses a 15-year-old girl.

Remind Lauren that “love” has nothing to do with it. Further, if she were to give him compromising photos, she would have no control over how they were used, now or in the future. Also, sending nude pictures of a minor (her) over the Internet is illegal.

Keep talking to her. Refrain from criticism or probing questions (“Who else is doing this?” “Do their parents know?”) that will hurt or frighten her into silence.

Most of all, encourage her to protect herself by taking the social risk of saying, “No.”

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