Tears. Fear. Guilt.
“Will my parents find out?” “Who else is going to see this?”
They trusted the other person. They thought they wouldn’t get caught. They thought no one else would see it. They didn’t know how to say no without being judged or viewed as “uncool.”
As a Youth First Social Worker, I hear these comments from teens about why they chose to send a sexually explicit message or photo. But by the time they reach my office, it is almost always too late.
Cellphones and the Internet have made it convenient for us to share information, pictures and more, but do adolescents understand the implications of sending inappropriate messages and pictures to others?
Sexting is defined as texting or other electronic messaging that is sexually suggestive in nature. It may sound flirty and harmless, but it can result in very serious consequences.
Sexting applies to all forms of electronic communication through social networking sites (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat) as well as texts. It may include explicit wording or seminude or fully nude photos or videos. Sexting includes receiving, sending or forwarding content.
Whether it is a text, photo or video, digital information can last forever. The sender has no control over the choice of the receiver to copy, alter, post or pass it on.
Sexting can result in many different consequences. Once the send button is pressed, it’s out there and can take on a life of its own. Embarrassment, school discipline, trouble at home, legal problems, bullying, sexual harassment, attention from online predators and damaged relationships are all examples of what could follow.
And don’t forget that because digital information can last forever, there is always the possibility that future colleges or employers could find an old sext from an online search.
Teens, if you feel pressured to send a sexually explicit message, don’t give in. Try saying no or simply ignoring the request. State your reason: “That’s sharing way too much,” or “I don’t do that because you never know who might see it.”
There is also a helpful app called “Send This Instead.” This free app includes things one could say if they’re being pressured to send a sext message. (The humorous replies are witty and sarcastic.)
Every message, photo or video you send or post creates an impression on those who see it. Think about the impression you want to make.
Before you send, post or forward any message, try asking yourself these questions:
How would I feel if my parents, grandparents, teachers or other adults saw this?
Would I want everyone at school to see this?
Would I say or share this in person?
If the answer is no, then do not to share — as tempting as it may be. Never reply to a message from someone you don’t know, and do not post personal information such as your name, age and address.
If someone sends you a sext message or image, do not reply and do not pass it on. Sharing it with someone could mean big trouble.
You should immediately tell your parent, teacher, school social worker or counselor. They will help you deal with it the right way. Wait until you have the OK from an adult before you delete it.
And remember, just because you received a sext message does not mean you are in trouble or did anything wrong. It’s when you pass it on to someone else that it becomes a problem.