Cause for Concern: Teens, “Sexting” and Social Media

For decades parents and educators have had concerns about the media’s potential negative influences on kids and teens.  Nowadays, it isn’t just the media; it’s social media causing a whole new host of problems.

Social media is anything that uses web- or mobile-based technologies for interactive communication.  This includes cell phones and the Internet.

Recently, it has grown to also include social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter.

With the rapid explosion of technology, life has become more convenient in many ways.  Cell phones, the Internet, email, and texting have allowed us to keep in touch, communicate efficiently, and find and exchange information at the drop of a hat.  Social media websites allow us to socialize and share our thoughts, photos and details of our lives.

However, social media, by its very expansive nature, has quickly found its place in trouble-making.  Because its reach is so extensive, its influence is so great, and its imprint is so permanent, social media can be harmful to our kids.

In a recent article in The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter (CABL), author Liwei L. Hua, M.D., Ph.D., discussed “Sexting and social media in today’s adolescent: Peer norms, problems, and provider responsibility.”

Teens and Sexting

“Sexting,” the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photos over a cell phone or the Internet, happens more frequently than many of us think.  According to the article, 4-20% of teens have sexted.  One such teen was a girl mentioned in the article who naively sexted a picture of a boy.  This act resulted in the boy talking about killing himself, and the girl being charged with child pornography.  The girl said she thought it would be “funny” to post the picture.  She had no idea of the consequences.

A Growing Concern

According to the 2011 Mott’s Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, sexting ranked #10 in top health concerns for children.  It was rated by 20% of adults as a big problem.  Adults are right to be concerned.

Dangerous Consequences of Poor Choices

Sexting has been tied to teen suicide, depression, pornography charges, and cyber bullying.

Oftentimes, young people don’t realize how serious or permanent these acts are.  They may send provocative pictures via text message or email for attention or due to impulsivity, limited judgment and sexual development/curiosity.  This combined with social media’s immediate access can lead to dangerous consequences.

Adolescents may not know that pictures sent through the Internet remain permanently in “cyberspace.”  This permanency can affect their chances of getting a job or getting into college as many employers and colleges do Internet searches on applicants.

Protecting Teens from Cyber Danger

Social media presents us with new responsibilities and challenges.  It is up to us as parents and educators to protect our children from the potential dangers of social media.

One way to do this is through parental guidance.  We need to be aware of what our kids are doing and how they are using social media.  Parents can set reasonable guidelines for the use of social media, including monitoring and restricting their use.

The article promotes psychoeducation, education aimed at helping people to understand and deal with psychological issues.  In this case it involves educating teens and adults about the potential dangers of social media and sexting.

This includes talking to teens about the permanence of texts and images sent online, and the potential risks, including cyberbullying, cyberstalking, sexual predation, suicide, and the possibility of legal ramifications. We need to make sure teens fully understand the seriousness and potential dangers of social media, particularly sexting.

 

 

 Article Source: Hua, L. L. (2012). Sexting and social media in today’s adolescent: Peer norms, problems, and provider responsibility . The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter28(4), 1,6.

 


Categories: Sexuality & Sexual Health , Social Skills & Fitting In