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Sex and Tech: helping your teen be safe in cyberspace

October 5, 2009
Times Observer

In the fall of 2008 the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and commissioned a survey of teens and young adults to explore electronic activity. This is the first public study of its kind to quantify the percentage of teens and young adults that are sending or posting sexually suggestive text and images. 653 teens ages 13-19 participated in the survey. The results offer powerful insights for parents into what teens are experiencing in cyberspace.

Key Findings: A significant number of teens have electronically sent, or posted online, nude or semi-nude pictures or video of themselves.

How many teens say they have sent/posted nude or semi-nude pictures or video of themselves? • 20% of teens overall • 22% of teen girls • 18% of teen boys

Sexually suggestive messages (text, email, IM) are even more prevalent than sexually suggestive images.

How many teens are sending or posting sexually suggestive messages? • 39% of all teens • 37% of teen girls • 40% of teen boys • 48% of teens say they have received such messages

Although most teens who send sexually suggestive content are sending it to boyfriends/girlfriends, others say they are sending such material to those they want to hook up with or to someone they only know online.

Who are these sexually suggestive messages and images being sent to? • 71% of teen girls and 67% of teen boys who have sent or posted sexually suggestive content say they have sent/posted this content to a boyfriend/girlfriend. • 21% of teen girls and 39% of teen boys say they have sent such content to someone they wanted to date or hook up with. • 15% of teens who have sent or posted nude/semi-nude images of themselves say they have done so to someone they only knew online.

Teens and young adults are conflicted about sending/posting sexually suggestive content – they know it’s potentially dangerous, yet many do it anyway.

How do teens feel about sending/posting sexually suggestive content? • 75% of teens say sending sexually suggestive content “can have serious negative consequences.”

• Teens and young adults are sending sexually explicit messages and images, even though they know such content often gets shared with those other than the intended recipient.

How common is it to share sexy messages and images with those other than the intended recipient? • 44% of both teen girls and boys say it is common for sexually suggestive text messages to get shared with people other than the intended recipient. • 36% of teen girls and 39% of teen boys say it is common for nude or semi-nude photos to get shared with people other than the intended recipient

Teens and young adults admit that sending/posting sexually suggestive content has an impact on their behavior.

Does sending sexually suggestive text and images affect what happens in real life?

• 22% of teens say they are personally more forward and aggressive using sexually suggestive words and images than they are in “real life”. • 38% of teens say exchanging sexually suggestive content makes dating or hooking up with others more likely. • 20% of teens believe those exchanging sexually suggestive content are “expected” to date or hook up.

Teens and young adults give many reasons for sending/posting sexually suggestive content. Most say it is a “fun and flirtatious” activity.

Why do teens send or post sexually suggestive content? • 51% of teen girls say pressure from a boy is a reason girls send sexy messages or images. • Only 18% of teen boys cited pressure from female counterparts as a reason.

Among teens who have sent sexually suggestive content: • 66% of teen girls and 60% of teen boys say they did so to be “fun or flirtatious” – their most common reason for sending sexy content. • 52% of teen girls did so as a “sexy present” for their boyfriend. • 44% of both teen girls and boys say they sent sexually suggestive messages or images in response to such content they received. • 40% of teen girls said they sent sexually suggestive messages or images as a “joke” • 34% of teen girls say they sent/posted sexually suggestive content to “feel sexy” • 12% of teen girls felt “pressured to send sexually suggestive messages or images.

Five Things To Remind Your Teen To Think About Before Pressing “Send” Don’t assume anything you send or post is going to remain private. Messages and images will get passed around even if you think they won’t.

There is no changing your mind in cyberspace – anything you send or post will never truly go away. Something that seems fun and flirty and is done on a whim will never really disappear. Potential employers, college recruiters, teachers, coaches, parents, friends, enemies, strangers and others may all be able to find your past posts, even after you delete them.

Don’t give in to the pressure to do something that makes you uncomfortable, even in cyberspace.

More than 40% of teens say “pressure from guys” is a reason girls send and post sexually suggestive messages and images.

Consider the recipient’s reaction. Just because a message is meant to be fun doesn’t mean the person who gets it will see it that way. Four in ten teen girls who have sent sexually suggestive content did so “as a joke” but many teen boys (29%) agree that girls who send such content are “expected to date or hook up in real life”. It’s easier to be more provocative or outgoing online, but whatever you write, post or send does contribute to the real-life impression you’re making.

Nothing is truly anonymous. Nearly one in five young people who send sexually suggestive messages and images do so to people they only know online. Remember that even if someone only knows you by a screen name, online profile, phone number or email address, they can probably find you if they try hard enough.

5 Tips To Help Parents Talk To Their Teens About Sex and Technology • Talk to your teens about what they are doing in cyberspace.

• Just as you need to talk openly and honestly with your teens about real life sex and relationships, you also want to discuss online and cell phone activity. Make sure your teens fully understand that messages or pictures they send over the Internet or their cell phones are not truly private or anonymous. It’s essential that your teens grasp the potential short-term and long-term consequence of their actions.

• Know who your teens are communicating with.

• Do your best to learn who your teens are spending time with online and on the phone. Supervising and monitoring your teen’s whereabouts in real life and in cyberspace doesn’t make you a nag: it’s part of your job as a parent. Many young people consider someone a “friend” even if they have only met online.

Consider limitations on electronic communication. You can put limits on the time your teens spend online and on the phone. Consider telling your teen to leave the phone on the kitchen counter when they are at home and to take the laptop out of their bedroom before they go to bed so they won’t be tempted to log on or talk to friends at 2 a.m.

Be aware of what your teens are posting publicly. Check out your teen’s MySpace, Facebook, and other public online profiles from time to time. This is information that your teens are making public. Talk with them specifically about their notions of what is public and what is private. Your views may differ but you won’t know until you ask, listen, and discuss.

Set expectations. Make sure you are clear with your teens about what you consider appropriate electronic behavior. Make sure your teens know what is and is not allowed online. Give them reminders of these expectations. This reinforces that you care about them enough to be paying attention.

At present it is estimated that about 90% of teens are online. Parents play a key role in helping their teens experience all the positive benefits of cyberspace while working proactively to keep them safe. n

Source: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Forbes is the Business and Community Liaison at Cassadaga Job Corps Academy. She has an AAS in Nursing from Jamestown Community College and a BS in Human Services and Community with a concentration in women and family issues from SUNY Empire State College. She lives in Jamestown and is the mother of an adult son and grandmother of three.

For more information about CJCA, contact Janet Forbes at (716) 595-4237, email or visit

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