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High School Musical actress Vanessa Hudgens learned the hard way that sending a sexually-suggestive photo of yourself is never a good idea, particularly when you are an underage celebrity. The Disney star caught major heat in 2007 when a steamy shot she reportedly sent to fellow teen actor Drake Bell a year or two earlier, when she was under 18, made its way onto the net. The red-faced star quickly apologized, telling fans, per People, "I am embarrassed over this situation and regret having ever taken these photos."
Sexting -- sending sexual images via cell phone or other electronic device -- is on the rise among teens today, though a new national study suggests the phenomenon isn't as widespread as it seems. The research, published today in Pediatrics, looks at the habits of 1,560 Internet users between the ages of 10 and 17 and concludes that while sexting is on the rise, it's far from the norm. Only 2.5 percent of the teens surveyed initiated sexting, while 7.1 percent said they received nude or nearly nude images of others.
The study authors do warn, however, that sexting is happening frequently enough to warrant the need to inform teens about the consequences of sexting and advice about what to do if they receive a sexually-suggestive text. Common Sense Media offers these tips for helping your kids understand this issue.
Talk about sexting before it occurs. Yes, it can be awkward to talk with your child about sexting, but it’s a lot more awkward to discuss it after an uncomfortable -- or risky -- incident has occurred.
Remind teens that they lose control of an image once it's sent. A teen might think an intimate image sent to a boyfriend or girlfriend will be for their eyes only, but it’s possible the recipient will decide to forward the pic to 50 people. Remind your teens that they lose ownership of the pic once it enters cyberspace.
Be sensitive to peer pressure. Like everything else in the teenage universe, the pressure to send a revealing photo can feel intense. Acknowledge that you understand that pressure can feel crushing, but the public humiliation that can happen afterward is much worse.
Teach your child how to help stop sexting. Let your teen know that forwarding a sexual photo that they receive is considered distributing pornography, which is against the law. Teach your teen to delete an inappropriate photo as soon as it’s received.
To help kids learn more, check out That's Not Cool.com, a public education campaign that raises awareness about teen dating abuse. Visit Common Sense Media to learn more about sexting.