Sexting 101

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Under the umbrella that is cyberbullying is another form of technological misuse–sexting.  Sexting is something that anyone who owns a cell phone with a camera, can engage in if they choose.

The term “sexting” is wordplay on exactly what it entails, sending sexual images via text-messaging services from one person to another.

The viral affect that sexting can so easily create poses a lot of concerns which are similar to the defamation that any instance of cyberbullying can have on one’s self-esteem or reputation.  And just like cyberbullying, sexting is becoming more and more of a problem that parents, teachers, and even lawmakers are having a hard time remedying.

In this blog I want to lay out the important facts about sexting, as well as provide some advice so that parents know how to spot it and deal with it, or how to prevent it from happening altogether.

The Basics of Sexting:

There are 3 main scenarios for sexting –

1.  An exchange of images solely between two romantic partners.

2.  Exchanges between partners that are then shared with others outside their relationship.

3.  Exchanges between people who are not yet in a relationship with each other.

Sexting Facts: 

Courtesy of:

  • 19% of teens ages 13-19, have sent sexually-suggestive pictures of videos of themselves via email, cell phone, or other electronic means.
  • 44% of these teens were asked to send the photo/video.
  • Older teens are much more likely to send and receive “sexts”.
  • 17% of teens who pay for their own phone bills are more likely to send sexts.
    • Versus just 3% of teens who do not pay for their cell phone bill.
  • Teens with unlimited-text messaging plans—75% of cell-phone owning teens—are more likely to receive sexts.  Among this group, 18% reported receiving sexts, compared to the reported:
    • 8% of teens on limited plans, and
    • 3% of teens who pay per message

Keep in mind that even though percentages like 17% or 8% look like small samples, those are actually pretty good-sized chunks of the teen population considering the fact that almost every teen in America owns a cell phone.  Regardless, when you’re the one who’s the victim, or the perpetrator, or the parent of either, statistics mean little to nothing.

“For these teens”, says Amanda Lenhart from, “the phone has become such an important conduit for communication and content of all kinds that turning it off is nearly unthinkable.”

This is true for most teens, and with the integration of social-networking apps on today’s phones, the cell phone has become more of a handheld laptop that’s capable of five or six different ways for teens to communicate.

Because sexting is such an easy thing for teens to do, it’s also very easy for someone’s explicit photo to get in the hands of a third, fourth, or fifth person.  It suffices to say that teens don’t have the most stable of relationships, and that break-ups or fights can easily justify the original recipient’s decision to make that photo viral.  With today’s technology and almost-universal Internet access, that image can be up on the Internet or in the email inboxes of every kid in school in a matter of minutes if the angry boyfriend/girlfriend wants it to.

Here are a few examples where this was in fact the case.

As you read these cases, you’ll see that, just like with cyberbullying, the consequences that these teens are facing range from small to extreme even though most of the details are the same or very similar.  And just like I pointed out with cyberbullying, the laws that are currently in place aren’t adaptive to the technology that teens have access to today.

Sexting Cases: Varying Consequences: 

Example 1:

Case:  State vs. Alpert, Florida, 2008.  18-year-old Phillip Alpert sent nude photos of his 16-year-old girlfriend to over 70 people. 

  • Consequence:  Alpert was sentenced to 5-years probation.
  • Alpert is now a registered sex offender until the age of 43.

Typical case of sexting. Philip admittedly did something he referred to as stupid. Question I have as a parent of two daughters, did the parents talk to their daughter about sending naked photos?

My daughter and I (she’s 16) speak candidly about such topics. I asked her if it’s the parents fault if a teen takes a picture of his or herself naked.  What could the parents do to prevent this from happening?

She said: If the parent tells their daughter (or son) that taking pictures of their private parts and sending it to someone else is wrong, then the parents aren’t at fault. Teens have to start being responsible for what they do. It’s not their parents fault. That girl in this case Mom was totally at fault.

Example 2:

In March 2009, a 14-year-old girl from New Jersey was charges with possession and distribution of child pornography after uploading 30 pictures to her MySpace page for her boyfriend to see.

  • Consequence:  She faced 17 years in prison and sex offender registration.
  • Instead, she was placed on 6-months probation and counseling in exchange for dismissal.

The charge here, though relevant if committed by a third-party, doesn’t seem to match up too well with what actually happened.  Though I agree, the girl should be punished; this is just another example as to why Internet and technology laws need to be revisited by federal lawmakers.

Very recently, Florida announced a change in their sexting laws: Courtesy of

A pair of Palm Beach County lawmakers are proposing a change to state law prohibiting the distributing and receiving photographs of nude minors by having the law not apply to minors until the fourth offense.

The bill (SB 2560, HB 1335) would create a new juvenile offense for “sexting”. It would prohibit minors from using cellphones, computers and other electronic devices to send photos of themselves or others nude and it would prohibit them from resending photos of other nude teens they receive.

A first-time offense for teen sexting would be a $25 fine or eight hours of community service. A second offense within a year would be a second-degree misdemeanor; a third offense within two years would be a first-degree misdemeanor. A fourth violation of the sexting law within three years would rise to the level of a felony offense.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Dave Aronberg, told the Palm Beach Post News, “Child pornography laws were never intended for cases like this where the pornographer is also the victim.”

Details found here:

Example 3:

17-year-old boy from Wisconsin, posted nude photos that his 16-year-old girlfriend sent him.

  • Consequence:  The boy was charged with child pornography and sexual exploitation of a child.

There’s no doubt that this boy’s actions were not wise, and the child pornography charge is more relevant here than in the previous case, but I can’t help but wonder what punishment the girlfriend should receive.  After all, she was the one who sent him the pictures in the first place.  While it’s not my place to judge someone and determine whether they should be punished or not, in my opinion, this girl’s parents need to sit down with her and have a serious conversation about her actions.

Example 4:

It doesn’t get any worse than the outcome of this case –

Jessica Logan was an 18-year-old senior in Ohio.

She sent nude pictures of herself to her boyfriend via her cell phone.  After they broke up, he sent them to hundreds of students at several schools—the reason doesn’t matter because nothing I can think of would justify his actions.

Jessica was teased and taunted so badly that she became depressed and eventually killed herself.

Sadly, more and more teens are committing suicide as a result of online and offline bullying, and as you can see, sexting is no exception as it has the potential of turning into something as devastating as Jessica Logan’s case.

Parents, we need to be aware and stay alert.  Make an effort to keep tabs on your child’s/teen’s cell-phone use.  As I’ve mentioned in other blogs, moderation is key, parents 10-15 years ago didn’t have to deal with these issues.  Being a mother of five, I know firsthand that when kids get bored, they tend to get into trouble, and unfortunately, sexting can be one of those things they do when they’re bored.

Here are a few things you can do to make the process of being a 21st-century mom a bit easier:

Purchase a safety-first cell phone service like:

AT&T Smart Limits – Allows you to set limits on your child’s texts, data downloads, phone calls, and Internet usage.  Check here for details.

AT&T Family Map – Gives you GPS tracking of your child’s phone.  It could help you make sure that they are where they say they are, as most kids don’t go very far without their phone.  Click here for details.


Kajeet – a pay-as-you-go cell phone service for kids that gives parents the ability to set parental controls and limits on the same things that Smart Limits does.  Check out their site.

Though all of these services are great tools for parents, and I’m sure there’s a bunch more out there, nothing can compare to parental oversight that only you can provide for your child.  Discuss sexting with them and make sure they understand the legal and, more importantly, the real-world consequences that can follow it.

Remember:  K.I.D.S.

  • Knowledge – Share what you know about Internet Safety and social networking safety.
  • Inform & Educate – Share proactively with other parents.
  • Dialogue – Dialogue. Dialogue. Keep consistent dialogue in school & at home with your kids.
  • Safety first – Real-world standards must be applied online.

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