Teenage Sexting and Its Consequences

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In the last one decade, the advancement in technology has changed the mode of communication and interaction among teenagers; the increased reliance of teenagers on technology has been profusely documented. About 78% of teenagers own mobile phones and about one-third of them send out more than 3, 000 messages via their mobile phones per month. In several cases, sexting has been used as a form of communication. There are several vague definitions about sexting, but generally, it is seen as a social phenomenon that refers mainly to the habit of sending or receiving messages or images that are sexually suggestive to peers through cell phones. There are sparse researches with regards to the precursors and context to sexting in the existing literature (Martinez-Prather & Vandiver, 2014).

New electronic communication platforms (e.g., Facebook, texting, Twitter, etc.) have raised some serious concerns among today’s parents, educators, law enforcement agencies and healthcare practitioners. These concerns include the negative behaviors youths may likely get involved in, with the domination of these forms of communication. Some of the very risky behaviors these youths are likely to engage in on the internet may include interacting with or being stalled by potential sexual predators on the internet, partaking in cyber bullying, and posting sexual images of both themselves and others in public places. Sexting, in addition to sexual experimentation among teenagers, youth sexualization and curiosity, has offered an entirely new form of behaviors considered risky, which may likely have some legal consequences for teenagers who get involved in such acts (Martinez-Prather & Vandiver, 2014). A number of these potentials can possibly leave some of these youths who engage in them labeled as (documented) sex offenders. Therefore, the consequences that come with sexting are quite serious and can have very negative effects on the teenagers for several years following their involvement in the act. Some of the future consequences can be difficulty in securing employment, licensing, housing, and some educational financial aids/grants.

Sexting is all about forwarding, sending or receiving sexually suggestive messages and photos through email or text message. While Sext is a term that has been used since 2005, the concept of recording or exchanging sexually explicit content cannot be said to be a new concept. Historically, different forms of sexual materials have been circulated in the form of photographs, drawings, and videos. Then the internet came along through which social media platforms and electronic devices have altered the way sexually explicit materials are exchanged. The recent advances in technology have made the exchange of sexually explicit materials more prevalent and easier than it has ever been. With just one click of a mouse or phone button, one photograph can be circulated to several people at the same time — and once a picture gets out, there is no way to get it back (O’Keefe, Clarke-Pearson & Council on Communications and Media, 2011).

In the last couple of years, several high profile online sexting cases have brought about the public perception that teenage sexting has always been there, while at the same time exposing the legal consequences that are faced by youths who engage in such risky behaviors. For instance, eighteen-year-old Philip Alpert from Florida circulated his sixteen-year-old girlfriend’s nude photos to her friends and family and was later charged for circulating child pornography; he was registered as a legal sex offender. However, some states have started implementing certain diversion programs that discourage youths being caught by laws set up for adults who circulate child pornography. Children, unlike adults, have inadequate capacity to make the right choices before taking part in certain behaviors that are considered risky. For instance, it is well documented that the part of the human brain that regulates higher thinking levels (example; emotional behavior, language, etc.) remains undeveloped in teenagers. In recent times, researchers have found that, due to teenagers’ limited capacity to self-regulate and their high probability to succumb to pressure from peers, adolescents and children are faced with certain risks as they experiment with and navigate social networking platforms (O’Keefe et al., 2011, 800). Therefore, partly due to their impulsive nature and immaturity, they can engage in sexting and some of other risky behaviors on the internet.

1.1. Implication of Studying this Subject

The main focus of this research is to evaluate the main characteristics of sexting as it relates to motivational factors, prevalence, the link between cell phone users and sexting, and possible effective guardians. Firstly, they evaluated sexting prevalence, a constricted definition was used with the aim of capturing more egregious sexting incidents that are likely to become subject to legal interferences under the child pornography acts, and create emotional or psychological consequences (Mitchell et al., 2012). By so doing, the participants were requested to provide information on whether they sent or received any sexually explicit photo that included features such as naked genitals, breasts, or buttocks through their cell phone while in high school.

Secondly, to evaluate the factors that motivate sexting, in addition to the determination of the main reason for engaging in the sexting exercise, the participants were given a list to provide answers to questions on why they engaged in sexting. This list involved some of the responses listed below: (1) flirtatious intentions, (2) pressure by a girlfriend/boyfriend, (3) to ask for sex, (4) to attract attention, (5), as a mere joke (coerced, blackmailed, or threatened by a girlfriend/boyfriend. To get additional responses, the participants were equally able to come up with substitute responses under the option Other (Martinez-Prather & Vandiver, 2014).

To evaluate the link between the use of cell phone and sexting, the participants were also asked to provide information about how often they make use of their cell phones, how often they send text messages with their cell phones, whether their phone was turned off during the night, or they slept on the same bed with their cell phone while in high school.

Finally, the link between capable guardians and sexting was evaluated by measuring the amount of time the teenagers spent with their peers without parental supervision and the level of parental limits placed on the use of cell phones as well as parental monitoring of how the teenagers used their cell phone (Martinez-Prather & Vandiver, 2014; Mitchell et al., 2012). Descriptive statistics were primarily used as the analysis to display the study result, but when it came to assessing bivariate links, both phi coefficient and chi-square were used.

1.2. Research Question

The prevalence of sexting cases and the harsh legal consequences it attracts have led researchers to evaluate both the context surrounding sexting and its extensiveness. For example, recognizing the context of teenage relationships that encourage sexting is essential for the development of efficient strategies for prevention. However, recognizing sexting prevalence has remained the major area of attention of all researches surrounding evolving area of study. Congruent sampling methods and sexting operationalizing, have however created conflicts among findings from the studies carried out to ascertain the extent of sexting prevalence among the youths. Another relevant factor that has been lacking in all sexting literatures is a theoretical foundation for examining sexting. This study evaluates sexting prevalence by making use of constricted definitions and assesses usefulness of the employed key elements of the theories involved in routine activities for making a more understandable sexting examination available (the offender’s motivation, the availability of a competent guardian, and the sexting target — i.e., the appropriate target) (Shaughnessy et al., 2012).

1.3. Research Hypothesis

The main aim of this research was to evaluate a new technological phenomenon popularly referred to as sexting (attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors) with regards to sexual behaviors, and making use of experimental research data. As such, the main research goal was the exploration of the behaviors that go with sexting such as the frequency of sending sexually explicit massages, the mediums used for sending them, and the recipients. Next, are the behaviors that were linked to sexting, which were well explored to incorporate certain questions that could offer appropriate explanation to the pressures that come with sexting. Finally, the reasons why messages that are sexually explicit are sent were also explored to evaluate if this phenomenon was a mere self-expression act or an easy way for sexual activity to be initiated. Three major hypotheses were created to investigate sexting behaviors thoroughly. Firstly, there was a hypothesis that a greater number of teenage girls and young women, than the number of teenage boys and young men, engaged in sexting initially (Henderson, 2011).

Secondly, there was another hypothesis that females face more pressure to send out sexting messages than their male peers. Finally, there was a third hypothesis that the major reason why both females and males send out sexting messages is to initiate some type of sexual activities more than anything else. The second study goal was to assess the correlation existing among people who send out sexually explicit messages and the attendant sexual behaviors they engage in, which includes the frequency of sex, and anal and oral sex partners. It was also hypothesized that a significant relationship exists between sex partners and sexting behaviors. For the concrete perception of the correlations between sexual behaviors and sexting to gain good support, the phenomenon of sexting would have to act as an indication of a clear switch into higher sexual behaviors. Finally, earlier researches on mass media evaluated sexting behaviors and attitudes; however, it is yet to address the correlation between sexting behaviors and sexting (Henderson, 2011).

2. References

Henderson, Lori (2011). Sexting and Sexual Relationships Among Teens and Young Adults, McNair Scholars Research Journal: Vol. 7: Iss. 1, Article 9.

Martinez-Prather, K. & Vandiver, D.M. (2014). Sexting among Teenagers in the United States: A Retrospective Analysis of Identifying Motivating Factors, Potential Targets, and the Role of a Capable Guardian, International Journal of Cyber Criminology, Vol 8 Issue 1.

Mitchell, J. Kimberly, Finkelhor, D., Jones, L., Wolak, J. (2012). Prevalence and characteristics of youth sexting: A national study. Pediatrics, 129(1), 13-20.

O’Keefe, G.S., Clarke-Pearson, K., & Council on Communications and Media. (2011). The impact of social media on children, adolescents, and families. Pediatrics, 127, 800- 804.

Shaughnessy, J.J., Zechmeister, E.B., Zechmeister, J.S. (2012). Research methods in psychology. (9th ed.). New York, NY McGraw Hill