Most parents who have seen their teenagers glued to a phone have wondered what, exactly, they're doing. Maybe they're texting about the next party or dance. And most parents hope they're not sending sexually explicit photos or messages.
But some researchers see sexting as a normal part of a teenager's sexual awakening.
"We're so reticent to acknowledge the sexual development of our teenagers, of our young people," says Rey Junco, fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. He sees sexting as a way teenagers start to express their sexuality. "To me, instead of it being a major concern for parents, it's a way that parents can actually begin a conversation with their teens about sexuality," he says.
Tell Me More spoke with Junco and a roundtable of parents about their thoughts on sexting.
Dad and radio host Fernando Espuelas on talking to his son about sexting
He's a very mature guy. But he's 14, so by definition his brain is half monkey, half man. So we try to deal with that reality. But at the same time, he's one of these typical boys, he doesn't want to talk about it. The more we try to force the conversation, the quieter he becomes. So I try to take moments when we're driving somewhere and just casually bring up who he's dating, or what's going to happen. We take a proactive role in trying to understand what's going on.
Mom Stephanie Silverman, publisher of Your Teen magazine, on early intervention
I think these conversations have to be had at an earlier time with these kids. Hopefully if you do discover that photo on your kid's phone, whether they've sent it or received it, you've already been having those conversations, and I think it's not too early to have those conversations in the preteen years. ... These kids can make mistakes, there is no question. And we all made mistakes. The problem is, we were all able to make mistakes privately and they can make the mistakes much more publicly.
Mom and writer Leslie Morgan Steiner on concern about consent
The issue for me is that sending photos of naked body parts — whether they're yours or somebody else's — for all of my kids is illegal. It could be considered child pornography ... so I've been really clear with my kids that they cannot ever send pictures like that of themselves or anybody else.
It's not so much that this is an indication that they're becoming sexually interested and active ... I just don't want them to harass other kids. What I worry a lot about is, is the person on the receiving end of this welcoming it? If it's mutual and consensual, then I'm comfortable with it.