Why do children sext?

Photo by Gaelle Marcel

Sexting, or the sending of nude or semi-nude pictures of oneself through digital means, didn’t exist when we were growing up. Therefore, many of us are shocked when we discover just how prevalent it is, and wonder why would any child, especially ours, do such a thing.

Sexting is the result of the perfect storm created by puberty, our current sexualized culture, and the availability of technology.

Most tweens and teens who send inappropriate pictures of themselves do so in the context of a relationship. Typically, the young couple exchanges pictures to each other as a sign of love and trust, as well as a means of creating intimacy. The couple usually expects the pictures to remain confidential. Indeed, many teens consider sexting as a safer way of engaging in sex, since it does not require physical contact.

Projecting an image of adulthood

Other tweens are searching for validation. Their bodies, as well as their self-identities, are in flux. As they send those pictures, they are asking their intended audience: Am I attractive? Am I sexy? Is my body something to be proud of? They wish to validate not only their bodies but also their personalities. By sending those pictures they attempt to present themselves as exciting, adventurous, and as non-prudish as one can possibly be.

Others will do it as an immature form of humor. Many boys, when asked why did they send such a picture, would answer “it was just a joke” or “I was just being funny.”

And of course, social pressure. Many tweens and teens immensely overestimate how many of their peers sext, and in an attempt to fit in with the popular crowd, sext themselves. Others will be encouraged or dared by friends to do so. In other, more disturbing cases, boys will persistently ask for, attempt to convince, or even pressure and coerce girls into sending such pictures.

Understanding why children sext

What we should understand is that none of these motivations are foreign to us. Most of us have allowed ourselves to be vulnerable to a loved one, looked for affirmations, attempted to present ourselves to others in certain ways, made poorly thought-of jokes or submitted to conformity or requests.

But isn’t sexting more dangerous? Doesn’t that put the tween in risk of public shaming far larger than anything we might have down at their age? Doesn’t it show poor judgement? Of course, it does. None of the above means we should allow or condone such behavior. It just means that when it happens, we should see it is not a sign of poor education or bad character, but rather as the result of common human motivations, coupled with readily available technology, children’s lowered ability to contemplate consequences and emerging puberty.

To better understand the way your children use their phone, install Jiminy today.
Or read more about teenage sexting, here.

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