Sexting, or a “sexual text message,” is the sending or receiving of a text, video or picture intended to convey an explicit or implicit sexual message using wireless devices (e.g., cellphones, smartphones, tablets, etc.). While there have been many educational campaigns that address sexting, MTV's A Thin Line campaign explains that sexting may not be a “big deal” for some people, but for others, it can have real consequences when someone feels pressured into sending a sext (or sexts) that goes viral.
In 2013, MTV and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research reported in 2013 that sexting was down nearly 20 percent from 2011, with only about a quarter of young people reporting that they have sent or received “sext” messages, compared with one in three in 2011. While only a limited number of kids and teens generate and exchange sexts, kids and teens that inappropriately share sexts with unintended recipients are causing a more challenging and potentially harmful issue.
According to a 2011 study from the Pew Center’s Internet & American Life Project, just 2% of all teens ages 12-17 say they have sent a “sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude photo or video” of themselves to someone else. That represents 3% of all teen cell users and has remained stable since 2009 when 4% of teen cell users answered a similar question. A much larger segment of the teen population – 16% of all teens and 18% of cell users – say they have received a sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude photo or video of someone else they know. By comparison, in 2009, 15% cell-owning teens said they had received such images of someone they know.
For parents, talking to kids about what to do if they send or receive a sext should help to address the issue BEFORE it has the potential to become an emotional or legal problem. Kids should know that state laws may prohibit and result in real consequence for sending sexts, especially if a sext is sent without knowledge or consent. So, parents should talk with their kids about sexting and use parental management tools to set limits that parents can decide are best for their families. By taking a few simple steps and keeping an open line of communication, parents and kids can manage the risks associated with sexting.
To help parents talk to their kids about sexting and responsible wireless use, CTIA and its member companies offer a number of management tools and tips. By using them, parents can manage or monitor their kids’ wireless usage, including placing limits or restricting camera features and text and picture messages.