Sexting: Parents need to understand social pressures and behavior
Sexting – often thought of only in a legal context – needs to be considered from a youth perspective in order for parents to more fully protect them from its consequences.
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Here’s a condensed version of the eight insights the authors gleaned:Skip to next paragraph
Anne Collier is editor of NetFamilyNews.org and co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a Web-based interactive forum and information site for teens, parents, educators, and everybody interested in the impact of the social Web on youth and vice versa. She lives in Northern California and has two sons.
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- The biggest “threat” from sexting to teens is “sexual pressure from peers,” not strangers or “predators,” and what can happen with peers as a result.
- There is no clear line between sexting and bullying. “Sexting” refers to “a range of activities which may be motivated by sexual pleasure but are often coercive, linked to harassment, bullying and even violence.”
- Girls are the most "adversely affected" and sexting is “shaped by the gender dynamics of the group.” The authors found “evidence of an age-old double standard by which sexually active boys are to be admired and … sexually active girls are denigrated and despised as ’sluts.'”
- “Technology amplifies the problem:" We’re all pretty familiar with the nearly instant mass distribution that’s possible with digital technology. Hard not to agree that this, if it happens, can amplify emotional harm, but it is certainly not in itself the problem.
- It’s the tip of an iceberg: Sexting is just part of a range of (in some cases long-standing) sexual pressures teens feel “oppressed” by, the authors report.
- Resilience and coping skills: The researchers said they were struck that the 14- and 15-year-olds appeared as “mature in their resilience and ability to cope” as they were “sexually aware and experienced.” But the 11- and 12-year-olds “were more worried, confused and, in some cases, upset by the sexual and sexting pressures they face, and their very youth meant that parents, teachers and others did not support them sufficiently.
- “Sexting practices are culturally specific” both in terms of young people’s personal and local environment and in terms of the broader media culture.
- Exposure is good and bad: The authors report that it’s very clear that young people need more support and education, and we all need more research. They say that, while digital media may be contributing to increased “gendered sexual pressures on youth,” they also expose those pressures, make them “available for discussion and so potentially open to resolution.”
I’ve long suggested the No. 1 digital safety tip is to talk with one’s kids. This is the research version of that, and it’s just as greatly needed for calibrating our parenting and risk-prevention education. So we can follow the author’s advice and not impose even these findings on our own children, but they add nuance to the public discussion and can inform good parent-child communication too.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Anne Collier blogs at NetFamilyNews.