Sexting — the sharing of sexually explicit photos on social media sites — isn’t the sole purview of the Anthony Weiners of the world. There’s a good chance your teenagers are doing it as well.
In a study called “Don’t Send Me That Pic,” published recently by Plan International Australia and Our Watch, seven out of 10 Australian girls aged 15 to 19 called the practice of sexting “endemic.” The study also found that 81 percent of them believe it’s unacceptable for boys to ask them to send explicit content but report that the pressure to do so is now commonplace.
The study raises a larger issue as well: Is readily available violent pornography shaping teenagers’ impressions of sex and relationships? One 18-year-old study participant is quoted in the report saying, “We need some sort of crack down on the violent pornography that is currently accessible to boys and men. … [It] is influencing men’s attitude toward women and what they think is acceptable.”
Psychology Today reported that while adolescent boys have historically sought information about sex from friends, family members, and pornography, in today’s digital world, porn has become the primary mode of sexual education — and can be harmful to a teenage brain’s development.
When an adolescent boy compulsively views pornography, his brain chemistry can become shaped around the attitudes and situations that he is watching, the magazine reported. Many porn sites paint an unrealistic picture of sexuality and relationships that can create an expectation for real-life experiences that will never be fulfilled.
A Drexel University project published in 2015 found that more than half of the undergraduates who took part in an anonymous online survey said they sexted when they were teenagers. The study noted that the majority of those who had sexted were unaware of the legal ramifications of underage sexting. Many jurisdictions consider sexting among minors — particularly when it involves harassment or other aggravating factors — to be child pornography, a prosecutable offense, said the Drexel report. Convictions of these offenses include jail time and sex offender registration.
So what’s the best way to monitor your kids’ online activities? To do just that: monitor. Ask them outright if they are sexting and have the online sex talk — the one where you address head-on the unhealthiness and unrealistic nature of online pornography and the trouble they can get into with a simple text asking a classmate to send an inappropriate photo. If they don’t believe you, tell them to Google Anthony Weiner.