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Why Is Sexting Among Teens Becoming More Prevalent?

What are you doing to help local youth make healthy lifestyle choices? Community Against Substance Abuse meetings provide assistance.

 

I know what I'm doing on Thursday, Dec. 13 between 10-11:30 a.m. I’m attending the Community Against Substance Abuse, or CASA meeting.

CASA actively and effectively fosters “healthy lifestyle choices.” I left its October meeting more curious and appreciative of the often undervalued, but extremely valuable work that a small number of modest, hard-working volunteers do for our community.

For example, in September, they co-sponsored, with the the semi-annual prescription medication disposal event. “So what?” I thought, initially.

Then I remembered. Drugs flushed down the toilet pollute our water supply. Drugs left in medicine cabinets can become the source of poisoning or drug abuse. Yes, collecting unused prescription medication is important.

This event collected 290 pounds of pharmaceuticals. “So what?” I might have asked again.

Then it dawned on me. Pills are tiny, and weigh next to nothing. It’s a whopping 290 pounds of drugs that didn’t get flushed down the toilet or sitting in garbage dumps. That’s a lot.

I calculated that if each person disposed an average of half a pound of drugs, 580 people took advantage of the event. I couldn’t calculate how much the collected drugs helped prevent poisoning or drug abuse.

This report, and the sheer number of other community projects CASA supports, astounded me. What I didn't expect, however, were the more personal presentations by representatives of two ongoing projects CASA helps fund. What I heard was humbling, inspiring, and eye-opening.

REALITY CHECK

A Los Gatos High School student, eyes sparkling with enthusiasm, spoke about “Reality Check,” a publication that gives students a chance to be heard on difficult and often taboo subjects. His sincerity and youthful smile made the rest of us smile.

According to this student,

  • LGHS students anonymously submit personal articles on a predetermined topic, such as death, forgiveness and sexual choices. "Reality Check" staff, about 12 students and an advisor, select the topics.
  • "Reality Check" staff does not censor the content of submitted stories, although they substitute some letters for profanity, and refuse to print obviously fake stories.
  • Confidentiality is broken only when there’s danger to self or others.
  • To balance student perspective, invited mental health professionals write one informative article per topic, with references to local and online resources.
  • Publications are sent only to LGHS families that wish to receive them.

In my view, “Reality Check” provides a refreshing counter-perspective in our mostly reward-or-punishment society.

We tend to believe that turning deaf ears or blind eyes to our youth’s undesirable comments and behaviors will “extinguish” them. The premise on which "Reality Check" operates is a wake-up call for those of us who fear “rewarding” disrespectful and self-destructive behavior by listening to youth in distress.

Reading stories written by youth who feel scared, sad, angry, and unheard is less than pleasant. Unpleasant for us, probably because we ourselves were shunned, punished, or shamed when we sent out distress signals.

They deserve to be heard. We know.

We also know that the alternative is worse: when we fail to listen to our youth, we fail to tend to our youth’s core emotional needs. Haven't we all felt the need to be heard?

“Reality Check” helps us to listen to our youth. As the name implies, it's a good reality check. 

SEXTING

Sexting is the sending of nude images or sexually suggestive text messages on cell phones. A Counseling and Support Services for Youth, or CASSY therapist and site director at LGHS tactfully enlightened us about sexting.

Prevalence:

  • Nearly 15 percent of teenagers with cell phones received nude photos through a text service (Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, 2009).

Alarmingly, this CASSY therapist guessed that in 2012, the percentage of teens sexting is probably higher. Even worse, there are indications that every year the number of kids sexting is getting younger.

Why sext? It’s seen as …

  • a “first step” before becoming sexually active
  • a part of a romantic relationship between partners
  • a good way to tell someone that they show interest in a future relationship

Risks

  • Teens who have sent or received nude images can be prosecuted on charges of child pornography or listed as sex offenders.
  • There is no guaranteed privacy. Sexts can be used as blackmail, or more dangerous forms of sexual harassment.

At LGHS a handful of students victimized by social media come in for counseling every week, according to CASSY therapists.

Thankfully, this presentation ended with what parents can do to help kids stay out of trouble.

  • Quick and easy-- delete sexts immediately, and tell the sender to stop.
  • Understand the consequences. Find stories of the negative consequences of sexting and share them with your kids. Ask them if they know such stories at their school.
  • Know the law and make sure your kids understand that sexting is illegal.
  • Encourage your kids to share what they’ve learned with friends, who may not understand the dangers.
  • Develop close relationships with your kids, so we can discuss these topics.

This CASSY therapist’s handout on sexting ended with these wise words: “Talking with teens about sex or sexting is never easy, but … critical.” Well said. I like how the sentence says, "Talking with." It reminds us to listen to our teens, and curtail how much we "talk at" them.

As far as I’m concerned, attending CASA meetings is a great way to lend support to our community. It's also a personal (as opposed to online) way to learn really important information. 

Intrigued? CASA meets every second Thursday of the month, in the LGHS' community room. It’s open to the public. They welcome you. I’ll be there.

Dyan Chan November 29, 2012 at 08:18 AM
Thank you, Grace. CASA sounds like a good resource for parents. I've been wanting to make it to one of those prescription drug disposal events -- it really is hard to get rid of medicines the right way! And "Reality Check" seems like a great outlet for teens. Don't get me started on online safety issues!
Tamara Archer November 29, 2012 at 05:28 PM
It's definitely a different world than when we were growing up, and while I'm sure each generation has felt that about their youth, it is also getting more dangerous and opening new territory even for the adults. I feel like I'm learning alongside if not after my kids about any topics... One of the 'rules of thumb' we've talked about in our home is "If you're doing or considering doing something that you'd feel caught if an adult/parent walked in the room, don't do it". We discuss what can go awry or the consequences are more and more falling into the realm of 'you don't know what you don't know' and this can help them take pause. It takes emotional strength, even for adults, but we feel it helps them in this world where it's moving so fast and no one can stay on top of it all. Thanks for the post and the meetings are now on my calendar!
Karla Albright November 30, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Great article. As an adult I just do not get the prevalence of sexting. It is surprising. And with all the press locally and nationally on how sexting is associated with on line bullying, depression and even suicide, it baffles me that it continues to increase. Thanks for highlighting an important subject. Maybe reality check, an awesome publication, might do an issue on sexting.
Grace "Megumi" Fleming December 01, 2012 at 01:58 AM
CASA: There was so much more I could have written about this organization. So... I will! Prescription drug disposal: Your family or pediatric doctor may be willing to dispose of your extra medications properly. Mine did. "Reality Check": deserves an article dedicated just to it! Sexting: It'll be enlightening if we heard from the young people who sext. Please ask the preteens, teens, and other young people you know, and ask them to write. I asked a 10 year old girl (in 5th grade!) about it, and she said, "Of course I know about it," like she was insulted I'd think she *might* not know. But, she didn't know of any of her classmates who've sexted. Phew!
Grace "Megumi" Fleming December 09, 2012 at 07:53 AM
Here's a perspective from a college student, who wishes to remain anonymous. It'll be nice if we can get more comments from young people: This article sparks a couple questions I often have when reading about sexting. Sexting can mean too many different things. It can be sending pics OR just text. Although they're similar, they are different. More importantly, I see a big difference between sexting (again, what kind of sext?) someone you've just met versus your bf/gf that you're spent time with building trust. With those questions, you have four different scenarios that are usually clumped into one."

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