The dangers of teen sexting
By Dr. Gail M. Gross
Recently, I was interviewed by Ashley Johnson at Houston Fox Media concerning the danger of teens using live streaming apps. Since then, I have been thinking about not just the potential danger of teens live streaming photographs of themselves in compromising situations, but also the reason for this rise in messaging apps.
As a social animal, your teen learns a lot of her grownup behavior through modeling and imitating adults. A 24/7 media cycle has made celebrities not only part of our social culture, but also secondary role models for your child. Whether by accident or on purpose, celebrities are influencing your teenager — through fashion, makeup, cologne, deodorant, food, or “sexting.” In an effort to act grownup and mimic the actions of celebrities they admire, your teen may send messages and sexually-charged photos to her friends.
Of course, the dangers involved are many, including:
- Sexting explicit photos online, to a minor, is unlawful.
- Online messages with sexual content can open your child to sexual assault, pedophiles, and kidnappers.
- When your child posts sexual online messages and images through her computer or cell phone, she is inviting into her bedroom the danger of strangers, who can cause her both harm and exploitation.
- Celebrities and others can influence your minor child through the cache of wealth, power, and celebrity that appears to come simply through their sexuality. This gives weight to sexuality, as the vehicle through which attention fame and celebrity flow.
- Besides making your child vulnerable, online chatting whether through messages or photos, sexualizes your child to predators.
Online Sexting Behavior is Illegal for Minors Under the Age of 16
And finally, not only is sexting with a minor illegal, but sexually-charged online chatting also creates an online visual and criminal record, that can never be expunged, and which can follow your child through college, through work, through marriage and through life. Dr. Zoe Hilton told the Commons Education Committee that, “Obviously children and particularly older children are looking at celebrities and looking at what the adult population is doing.” Further, she stated that, “I think we’ve got to the point with older teenagers where sexting is a normative behavior.”
What is the Solution?
Ultimately, the responsibility lies with you to parent your child. The computer your child is using is yours, the cell phone your child is using is yours, and you, as a parent, have the right and responsibility to parent and supervise not only what your child is doing, but with whom. Moreover, many cell phone companies and internet providers have programs that can give you a record of your child’s online activity. At the end of the day, it is important to follow the threads of your child’s online activity, so that you keep her engaged in age-appropriate activities, and emotionally and physically healthy and safe.
Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC’s The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX Radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, Peoplemagazine, Parentsmagazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU’s Great Day Houstonshow. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at EmpowHER.comsince 2013. She currently blogs for Thrive Global. She has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. Most recently, she received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International and Houston Women’s Magazine named her One of Houston’s Most Influential Women of 2016. She is the author of The Only Way Out is Through and How to Build Your Baby’s Brain.