social media and sexting

Teen Sexting, Part III: Sexting on Social Media

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Over the last few weeks we have been delving into the topic of sexting teens. So far we have explored the ins and outs of sexting in regards to normal sexual development and how gender can affect sexting behaviors. We have established a good understanding of the desires that may drive teens to sext, but we need to realize how social media encourages the sharing of these risque selfies.

Today teens find themselves in a unique position: they look and talk like adults, but they are far from mature. This phase of development is natural, but when technology is coupled with peer pressure, hormones, and lack of experiences it can create new vulnerabilities for our youth. A trending example of a teen’s lack of mature decision making skills is how they often turn to social media for sexting.

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Why Do Teens Use Social Media To Sext?

Within the last few years society has undergone a social media revolution that left parents treading in a sea of apps, friend requests, and digital threats. It is estimated that 92% of teens admit to going online daily with an astounding 24% claiming they are constantly connected. With the advent of Smartphones, the majority of our teens are using their devices and cell phones to link with their friends at unprecedented rates.

Teens are able to meet new people, share social profiles, and employ conversations by reaching out with a like button or friend request. This can give them courage to share things that they would never do in person—like sexting.

As we’ve discussed in our early article, Is Sexting Natural?, sexting is a unique development from the mix of technology and teen puberty. Of course teens, who are reaching the point in which they are questioning and exploring their sexuality, are going to use the technology they have ready at their fingertips. In that way, sexting is just an extension of the “modern” adolescent’s sexual development.

But most teens buy into the myth that, because sexting is a digital interaction, there aren’t any repercussions. It’s true that you won’t get pregnant or contract an STD by sexting, but there are other very serious, very dangerous consequences that many teens don’t realize.

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The Progression Of Sexting

It might start with an innocent friend request or a text that leads to a fun conversation. Eventually, after a few LOL’s, a teen’s guard might lessen and they become willing to share more intimate tidbits. That’s the beauty of social media, teens use it to connect and foster relationships outside their normal social circles.

However, this digital freedom can lead to trouble.

Far too often, teens look for acceptance from their peers and ask for feedback on their appearance. You may notice hashtags with “r8 me” (rate me) or people asking for honest comments from other users. Girls and boys take advantage of easy access and pry on a person’s feelings of insecurity to request lewd photos or pressure targets into sharing intimate images.

Surprisingly, sexting isn’t restricted to teens going steady or those who are in exclusive relationships- it appears that some teens are willing to expose everything to a complete stranger.

It is becoming more prevalent for people, teens and adults included, to develop romantic feelings for someone they have met online and don’t know personally. This phenomenon is even the basis of the hit MTV reality show,  “Catfish”. These online relationships can feel very real and genuine, but a lot of the times they are based on lies and are harboring heartbreak.

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Sext Friendly Social Media Apps

Knowing how ephemeral qualities and the lack of personal accountability can encourage teens to engage in sexting is important, but parents need to know exactly what social media sites and apps our teens are utilizing. Facebook and Twitter might come to mind, but teens are going undercover and utilizing many other forms of social media that their parent’s don’t understand.

Here is a list of six popular apps and how teens are using them for sexting:

  • Snapchat– Snapchat is one of the most popular messaging apps teens use. It allows senders to set a time limit on a picture or video they send. When the allotted time is up the images disappear- poof! This fleeting quality makes this app an ideal vehicle for sending goofy or sensual photos to each other. However, an unintended consequence of this app is that teens might believe that it is alright to sext, because the image will self destruct.
  • Slingshot- This disappearing messaging app requires a person to snap a photo of your own to send the sender before you can view the picture they shot you. This app also uses tracking information to allow users to see your location. Even though this social media outlet can be used for fun, it takes “I’ll show you mine, you show me yours” to a whole new level.
  • Whisper- social media has embraced anonymous apps and the freedom it offers participants. Whisper is often used to confess anything ranging from something embarrassing to the sensual. This app is intended for the over 17 crowd, but that doesn’t stop teens from signing up. All too often the content is inappropriate and can harbor sexual predators or cyberbullies.
  • Ask.fm- This social media site has a popular question and answer setup. Users can post anonymously and ask or answer anything they desire. Granted, there are fun topics, but it isn’t rare to stumble upon sexual threads.
  • Omegle- Omegle is similar to an anonymous chat room where anything goes. It isn’t uncommon to find sexual terms, content, and violence. Chat rooms are notorious for predators engaging teens in online romances or sexts. It is not uncommon to find people soliciting sexual acts or wanting to start a steamy conversation.
  • StreetChat AppThis anonymous app uses a “bulletin board” approach similar to YikYak. Users register by school and post photos on the selected board. The downside to this app is that anyone can register to a school board, even if they don’t actually attend there. This can open teens up to predators and bullying.

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The Dangerous Combination of Social Media and Sexting

Teens might sext in good fun, but far too often people fail to realize that anything online has the potential to be shared or recovered. Young adults might screenshot a smoldering nude photo, share racy images to get back at an ex, or post racy photos to inflict pain on a former friend. These images might be circulated online, in the locker room, or among classmates which can lead to severe taunting, depression, and thoughts of suicide for the victim.

Often, sexting over the Internet can lead to child pornography court cases. Receivers and senders of sexts can be charged as sexual offenders if they were under age when the photos were taken. This even includes consensual sexting, because it all boils down to possessing nude photos of a child.

In a world rich with disappearing messages and anonymity, teens often get carried away with online behaviors. This perfect storm of outside and biological factors can leave our children open to severe ramifications. social media can be used to connect people and share knowledge in unprecedented ways, but too often we read about the beastly combination of sexting and social media gone bad.

Children might fail to realize how one passionate photo can impact them for the rest of their lives. This raises the issue of permanence and that teens need to be constantly questioning how their social media escapades can come back to haunt them. Our next installment in this series will focus on the very real and frightening complications teens can encounter when using social media to sext.

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