Sexting is exactly what it sounds like––sending a sexually related message to another person via text or instant message. And it’s much more common among teenagers than you might think. There have been several recent studies concerning the how and why of teen sexting.

In a study from Drexel University more than half of the students involved admitted to sexting when they were teenagers. While teen sexual activity has been on a decline for more than a decade, a new factor for parents to consider is sexting. A University of Texas study showed that teens who participated in sexting were more likely than their peers to engage in sexual intercourse in the next year. While there are many factors that lead a teenager to make the choice to have sex, we can’t downplay the contribution of sexting.

The reasons for sexting can be traced back to the reasons teenagers do most everything––relationships and acceptance. The number one reason that guys and girls give for sexting is to please a boy/girlfriend. Not far behind that is the desire to get the attention of another boy or girl.

Shockingly, many child psychologists now consider sexting a normal part of teen sexual development. The rationale is, if it is consensual and no one is being hurt, then it’s no big deal. But our teens are being hurt. Roughly 2 out of 3 girls who have sent a nude/semi-nude photo of themselves report feeling pressured by a guy to do so. This can have long term consequences for both parties. This type of pressure can easily cause girls to struggle with self-worth, poor body image, and self-confidence. Legally speaking, for the guys involved this behavior constitutes sexual harassment.

The average high school romance last six weeks (for middle school it’s less than that). If sexting has been a part of the relationship, like it is for 1 in 5 teenagers, then after the relationship is over the intimate pictures can quickly get spread to their friends, their school, and even on social media. Besides the social embarrassment and shame that can occur, the person sharing the pictures can actually be charged with distribution of child pornography. Many states are now enacting “revenge porn” laws that the scorned sexter could also charge with.

The biggest obstacle to addressing godly boundaries with technology and your teen is first admitting that your teenager is capable of sexting. So often, we still see our teens as the cute eight year olds they once were. When you treat your teen as the child they once were, instead of the adult they are becoming, you keep them from taking responsible for their actions and potential set them up for a moral defeat. It is important that you address these difficult issues openly and honestly and give clear expectations to your teen. Here are a few to talk about with your teen.

• Intimacy is a part of your God-given makeup. God has wired you for intimacy. The closer you get to people, the more intimate you become. Certain types of intimacy are best experienced in a covenant marriage relationship.

• Texting is Never the Place for Intimacy. No matter how “close” you feel to someone else, it is never acceptable to share sexually intimate thoughts or photos with someone else.

• The Things You Share with Others in a Text are Permanent. Anything you share with someone in a text can be saved by the other person. Do not share anything that you do not repeated in public.

• If You Feel Pressured, Flee. If someone is asking you to share a part of yourself that is clearly outside of God’s boundaries, you need to end the conversation. Your goal is not to change their character; it is to preserve yours.

• Don’t Pass on What Was Sent to You. If someone sends you a sexually inappropriate photo or message, do not forward it to others. This could make you legally liable for distribution of child pornography or cause emotional harm to someone else that you wouldn’t want for yourself.

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