Young people’s mental health is a topic that has been widely explored, but how many studies have been done regarding sexting, harassment, and mental health? Not many. Gone are the days when talking on the rotary phone to connect is the norm (do they even sell rotary phones anymore?) Texting and connecting via social networks have replaced the phone. Sexting is not new to today’s adolescents, but they still need to be reminded that one’s teenage innocence can be gone with a flick of a finger. Just that simple. Or is it?!
The Internet is a 24/7-communication tool. With sexting becoming more popular, how do we keep our young clients safe? This pastime is harming our young people and is providing ammunition against the already vulnerable, isolated young individuals.
Recently, teens ages 12-17 were surveyed about sexting, and the results may surprise you. According to Pew Research Centers Addiction & American Life Project (2009), 4% of cell- owning teens surveyed admit to sending sexual images via their cell phone. 15% of this population says they have received sexual images on their phone. Older teens are much more likely to send and receive sexting images; 8% of 17-year-olds with cells have a sexual photo via text. 30% of 17-year-olds have received a sexual image on their phone.
Interestingly, the teens who pay their own cell bills are more likely to send “sexts.”17% of teens in this group admit to sending sexually suggestive images.
The results of this study concluded three main scenarios for sexting:
1) an exchange of images solely between two partners;
2) an exchange of images between partners that are shared with others;
3) an exchange of images between people that are not in a relationship, but at least one of the pair wants to be.
Sexting, even if the goal is to share it with only one individual, can lead to massive sharing across the web. One may remember the young woman who had her pictures shared across a mass email list and then three weeks later committed suicide. Sexting, even if normalized in some environments, should be widely discouraged for this reason alone.
A steady stream of Internet availability has the potential to increase a young person’s stress and also gives them the opportunity to connect with others in similar distress. Social networks from tumblr to vine have pages dedicated to self-harm, sexualization, and inflicting violence on others. With triggering content like this, one wonders how to get through to these impressionable minds.
Shaming and humiliation from one’s peers during adolescence is damaging. Bullies, who would corner you in the classroom, are a thing of the past. Now, they follow you way beyond the confines of school. They are there all the time.
Some individuals are cyberbulled because of a sexting incident. Sexting can even happen to the most morale and conservative of teens. Once we add a cute boy to the mix, all reason and rational can go out the window.
3 ways to keep our clients safe from sexting and harassment.
- Educate our clients on the dangers of sexting.
- Create a cell phone/computer contract with your young person outlining the appropriate/inappropriate uses of technology.
- Limit their online/phone time by enforcing parental controls on all devices.
We need to keep our young clients safe from the tech world. Along with parents, it is our job to help teens understand the consequences of their actions, which includes abusing technology. There are programs out there for both teens and parents to educate them on internet safety. Having an open discussion with our clients and the community at large can help teens know what is safe to post on-line and off-line. Don’t forget to tell them, sharing is forever.
LENHART, A. (2009, December 15). Teens and Sexting: Major Findings.
Pew’s Research Centers Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved from