Child Crime Prevention & Safety Center

Kids and Sexting

Kids and SextingSexting is a term that refers to the sending and receiving of sexually explicit photos, messages and video by means of text message, email or other forms of electronic communication. Increasingly, sexting is conducted by young people who exchange explicit images and messages to friends, boyfriends, girlfriends or even strangers met online. Sexting can have a negative impact on an adolescent’s sexual and psychological development and can even lead to criminal charges.

Statistics Involving Sexting

Sexting may be even more pervasive than parents and teachers believe. Studies have shown that 65 percent of children between the ages of 12 and 15 own a smart phone and 25 percent of children acknowledge receiving an unwanted message pertaining to sex.

When asked why they engage in sexting, 40 percent of teenage girls respond that they do it as a “joke,” 34 percent say they do it to feel sexy and 12 percent say they are pressured into it.

Seventeen percent of underage sexters admit that they will share messages they receive with another person and 55% of those share the explicit messages with more than one person.

Fifteen percent of teens acknowledge sending nude or semi-nude images of themselves to strangers they have met online.

Minors may be under pressure to take pictures of themselves or to send messages they have received that were taken by others. They may do this at the urging of an insistent boyfriend or girlfriend or from an adult they have met online. Unfortunately, once a message has been sent it can be disseminated to many people beyond the sender’s intent or may be used to embarrass or manipulate the sender. Sexting can often lead to bullying and humiliation and can be devastating to a child’s social life and emotional development.

Consequences of Underage Sexting

Young people may view sexting as harmless however it can often lead to serious consequences and have a long-term effect on a child’s emotional wellbeing. The widespread sharing of messages or images that were intended to be private can make the sender the target for negative comments and bullying. This can result in severe emotional distress.

In addition, a child’s reputation can be harmed as explicit material is spread over the Internet. This material can exist online indefinitely and may even affect the child’s education or job prospects in the future.

Sexting can overly sexualize young people before they may be emotionally prepared which can lead to long-term psychological effects, including increased promiscuity, attachment issues and depression. Sexting can be a sign of self-objectification which research has shown to be linked to decreased sexual esteem, decreased sexual satisfaction and decreased sexual safety and is also linked to eating disorders, depression and anxiety.

Underage Sexting and Legal Implications

It is important to remember that sexting may also be illegal. When images of underage minors are disseminated online, law enforcement may pursue charges of producing and distributing child pornography. The fact that the people disseminating the explicit images are also underage may end up be irrelevant.

This is a new area of the law and legislators and law enforcement agencies are often trying to catch up as new technologies develop. Some states make it illegal for anyone to send explicit photos of underage individuals, even where the sender and recipient of the images are both underage. Federal law also prohibits using computers to disseminate explicit images of underage subjects. In some cases, teens who are convicted of an offense relating to underage sexting may have to register for life as a sex offender. Studies have shown that the majority of teens acknowledge that they did not think about the possible legal consequences or other ramifications of sexting when they engaged in this type of activity. Adults who are involved in sexting with minors will also face significant penalties and may be required to register as a sex offender if convicted of the underlying sex offense.