When it comes to sex, tech and teens don't make the best bedfellows. As tech-savvy teens become increasingly fluent with new technology, from social networking sites to tricked-out new cell phones, research finds the negative consequences stacking up.
According to the results of a survey released today by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl.com, 22 percent of all teen girls — and 11 percent of teen girls ages 13-16 years old — say they have electronically sent, or posted online, nude or semi-nude images of themselves.
And these racy images are also getting passed around: One-third (33 percent) of teen boys and one-quarter (25 percent) of teen girls say they have had nude/semi-nude images — originally meant to be private — shared with them.
Sharing is baring
For some teens, like 16-year-old Megan, the downside to “sex-ting” quickly became apparent. “I was with my friend and we were busy texting a couple of boys we were friends with at the time,” Megan recalled. “And they sent us a picture of them without their shirts on, and we just kind of decided to send one back.”
The photo that Megan and her friend sent showed the then-14-year-old girls with their shirts pulled up, revealing their bras. “They didn't think it was a big deal, they just kept sending it to other people,” said Megan. “I really don't think I would ever do anything like that ever again, because I know what could happen now and how dangerous it could be and where it could leak to.”
But it turns out that teen girls are not the only ones sharing sexually explicit content. According to the survey, almost one in five teen boys (18 percent) say they have sent or posted nude/semi-nude images of themselves. One-third (33 percent) of young adults — 36 percent of women and 31 percent of men ages 20-26 — say they have sent or posted such images.
Diamond, a teen who spoke to TODAY along with a panel of other young people, said, “I also have female friends who have pictures of guys' private area, chest, all type of stuff like that. So it happens.”
The online survey of 1,280 teens and young adults — done by TRU, a company that conducts research on teens and 20-somethings — indicates that 15 percent of teens who have sent sexually suggestive content such as text messages, e-mail, photographs or video say they have done so with someone they only know online.
Real life imitates life online
What teens and young adults are doing electronically seems to have an effect on what they do in real life: Nearly one-quarter of teens (22 percent) admit that technology makes them personally more forward and aggressive. More than one-third of teens (38 percent) say exchanging sexy content makes dating or hooking up with others more likely and nearly one-third of teens (29 percent) believe those exchanging sexy content are “expected” to date or hook up.
“That so many young people say technology is encouraging an even more casual hook-up culture is reason for concern, given the high rates of teen and unplanned pregnancy in the United States,” said Marisa Nightingale, senior adviser to the Entertainment Media Program at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. “Parents should understand that their own notions of what's public, what's private, and what's appropriate may differ greatly from how teens and young adults define these concepts.”
Here are five tips from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy to help parents talk to their kids about sex and technology.
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Talk to your kids about what they are doing in cyberspace.
Just as you need to talk openly and honestly with your kids about real-life sex and relationships, you also want to discuss online and cell phone activity. Make sure your kids fully understand that messages or pictures they send over the Internet or their cell phones are not truly private or anonymous. Also make sure they know that others might forward their pictures or messages to people they do not know or want to see them, and that school administrators and employers often look at online profiles to make judgments about potential students/employees. It’s essential that your kids grasp the potential short-term and long-term consequences of their actions.
Know who your kids are communicating with.
Of course it’s a given that you want to know who your children are spending time with when they leave the house. Also do your best to learn who your kids are spending time with online and on the phone. Supervising and monitoring your kids’ whereabouts in real life and in cyberspace doesn’t make you a nag; it’s just part of your job as a parent. Many young people consider someone a “friend” even if they’ve only met online. What about your kids?
Consider limitations on electronic communication.
The days of having to talk on the phone in the kitchen in front of the whole family are long gone, but you can still limit the time your kids spend online and on the phone. Consider, for example, telling your teen to leave the phone on the kitchen counter when they’re 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. 5 tech secrets parents need to know
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 isn’t snooping — this is information your kids are making public. If everyone else can look at it, why can’t you? Talk with them specifically about their own notions of what is public and what is private. Your views may differ, but you won’t know until you ask, listen and discuss.
Make sure you are clear with your teen about what you consider appropriate “electronic” behavior. Just as certain clothing is probably off-limits or certain language unacceptable in your house, make sure you let your kids know what is and is not allowed online, too. And give reminders of those expectations from time to time. It doesn’t mean you don’t trust your kids, it just reinforces that you care about them enough to be paying attention.
Here are five tips from the National Campaign that looks at what young people should think about before pressing "send."
Don’t assume anything you send or post is going to remain private.
Your messages and images will get passed around, even if you think they won’t: Forty percent of teens and young adults say they have had a sexually suggestive message (originally meant to be private) shown to them, and 20 percent say they have shared such a message with someone other than the person for whom it was originally meant.
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 die. 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. And it is nearly impossible to control what other people are posting about you. Think about it: Even if you have second thoughts and delete a racy photo, there is no telling who has already copied that photo and posted it elsewhere.
Don’t give in to the pressure to do something that makes you uncomfortable, even in cyberspace.
More than 40 percent of teens and young adults (42 percent total, 47 percent of teens, 38 percent of young adults) say “pressure from guys” is a reason girls and women send and post sexually suggestive messages and images. More than 20 percent of teens and young adults (22 percent total, 24 percent teens, 20 percent young adults) say “pressure from friends” is a reason guys 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 10 teen girls who have sent sexually suggestive content did so “as a joke,” but many teen boys (29 percent) 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 (18 percent total, 15 percent teens, 19 percent young adults). It is important to remember that even if someone only knows you by screen name, online profile, phone number or e-mail address, that they can probably find you if they try hard enough.
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