Why is Sexting by Teens Popular; Why do Teens do It?
I was at a memorial for a friend who died recently. While eating baked chicken on a paper plate, a man leaned across the table and said, “Why do teenage do it? Why are they sexting?”
I looked at him quizzically and he said there were about 30 incidents recently in a local high school.
“Yes,” he assured me. “There were 30 girls who were caught sexting. Why do kids do that?”
I hadn’t attended this memorial prepared to answer questions about sexting, so I gave him the best off-the-cuff response I could come up with.
However, the next day, I looked through the newspapers and found the stories about the incidents discovered at a local school. There were, in fact, 30 girls who were involved in sexting – sending sexually explicit photos of themselves on their cell phones to boys. The boys, however, were certainly no respecters of the girl’s privacy, which the girls may or may not have expected, and they were texting them around to other boys. Finally, one of the girls told a school official and that’s how the police got involved.
While this happened in a Detroit suburb, it’s not the first such rash of sexting incidents. It happens at schools around the country.
So, the question the man was asking is certainly relevant, and deserves some kind of attempt at an explanation. What does motivate girls to snap nude selfies and send them to a boy?
It’s a question that should be asked in view of what schools, prosecutors, and police have done to educate young people to the risks of sexting. The risks are clear to most adults: sexting may lead to embarrassment, self-image problems, school problems, relationship hassles, and even criminal prosecution. And, of course, who knows how it may affect future job prospects?
Do teens do this because of raging hormones? Is it to get attention (this was the explanation offered by the man who originally posed the question to me)? Is it a reflection of the sorry state of our nation’s morals? Does it indicate the lack of parenting at home?
I don’t think any of these explanations are particularly useful or helpful. I don’t think raging hormones offers an explanation of anything during adolescence – let alone sexting. Attention-seeking is always such an easy answer for any child or adolescent behavior – yet “looking for attention” doesn’t really explain any complex behavior. And to my way of thinking most child and adolescent behaviors are far too complex to warrant such a glib explanation.
Sexting is new – the term itself is only about two years old. But the motivation behind it is perhaps as old as the human race. Middle school and high school students are trying to find themselves, have undeveloped portions of the brain that control decision-making and hinder their full consideration of consequences. And with the technology available to kids, sexting is easy. How simple is it to snap a photo and send it in a text? It takes five seconds.
But that technology and the ubiquitousness of social media, where photos are shared daily by perhaps a majority of people in our country, makes it a popular pastime, a way to establish who and what you are, and a habit that reaps instant rewards. Teens may get so used to posting all sorts of photos that sending out the most intimate of photos maybe doesn’t even rate a second thought. Kids, like adults, are accustomed to sharing profiles and personal information on many social media sites. Sharing is now second nature.
If you post your private thoughts or your latest selfie on Twitter or Facebook, after a while you don’t think about it anymore. It’s what you do. Doesn’t everyone do it?
According to a recent article in The Atlantic, many girls sext as a form of dating and sexuality without really having sex. Furthermore, the article by Hanna Rosin points out, girls frequently send a sext to a boy they like because the boy has asked for a sext.
Combine all of this – the ease and frequency of posting thoughts and photos, the lack of fully considering consequences, a request of a favored boy, and sexual experimentation, along with the immature decision-making skills – and perhaps you have an explanation of why they do it. There’s the ease, and then, too, there may even be the sense that what you are posting is private, overrides the potential negative consequences. And even though most adolescents have been warned by someone – teacher, prosecutor, or parent – about the dangers of this behavior, taking risks is what teens do. They forget about the possible legal ramifications.
If you’re the parent of a teenager or a pre-teen, you have to talk about this frequently. Go over the dangers of sexting. Don’t assume they know those risks and will remember them. Take advantage of news or media stories about sexting to remind them what can happen to them if they do this. Emphasize the importance of thinking before acting and teach them to rehearse in their minds the possible negative consequences of all decisions.