90% of 15 to 17 year olds own a mobile phone*
Girlfriend magazine: 40% of girl readers had sent explicit photos

Mental Health & Wellbeing of Young People seminar speaker and Cyber safety expert Susan McLean defines sexting as: the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photos electronically, primarily between mobile phones, but can include internet applications such as MSN, email, or social networking sites.

Teenagers are living in an increasingly sexualised world dominated by technology, this is dramatically changing the way they socialise and form relationships.

The development of text, Bluetooth and webcam means that sexual images can be sent into cyberspace instantly. These images then “become part of a young person’s digital footprint, which may last forever and potentially damage future career prospects or relationships” (NSW Government 2008).

The need by many young people to constantly be in touch with each other and the world through social media sites and other new media has led to the development of new terminology including:
Textaphrenic: constantly checking mobile to see if a message has arrived.
Texiety:  feelings of anxiety that occurs when teens haven’t received a text or are unable to send texts. Anxiety increases when they over analyse why people haven’t replied to them.
Post-traumatic text disorder: physical and mental injuries sustained while texting (like walking into poles) and feelings of anxiety, isolation and depression when they do not receive texts or have copious amounts of online ‘friends’.
Binge texting: sending lots of individual texts or group texts to engage as many responses as possible so they can still feel like part of the group and reassure themselves that they have ‘friends’.

Tips on how to help teens text safely:
Never post or send explicit photos
Once the ‘send button’ is pressed you have lost control of where an image can be sent next. It could go viral, family could find it or in the future a potential employer could access it.
Let friends know
Let a friend know if he or she posts or shares information or images of you that makes you uncomfortable.
Know the law
There are legal consequences for sending and receiving explicit images. Teenagers who have sent nude pictures of themselves have been charged with offences such as producing and distributing child pornography.
Delete sexts immediately
While it is impossible to control what is sent, teenagers can choose what to do next. No matter how strong the temptation, do not forward the sext. Instead it immediately and tell the sender to stop.
Encourage positive self worth
Try to help teenagers build a strong sense of self worth and a healthy self esteem. Keep the lines of communication open and make it clear that they can come to you with anything that may be bothering them.

Jennifer Walsh from the Community Liaison and Education Unit for The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS) said: “There will always be new technologies, new social settings to respond to, but the central message about caring for yourself and caring for others remain the same.”

For more advice on parenting and sexting, visit the Department of Community Services website www. community.nsw.gov.au.

* Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) 2010

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: Dept of Community Services. Australian Clearinghouse for Youth Studies (ACYS)