The High Price of Teen Sexting

teen girls crying cellphone

When racy photos of celebrities or politicians turn up online, it becomes national news. But sexting – the transmission of sexually-explicit images and text via mobile phone – is not just a quirk of public figures with outsized egos. It is alarmingly common among the lay population – especially teens.

58 percent of American teenagers now own smartphones, nearly all of which enable users to sext with unprecedented ease. Recently, Snapchat – a mobile application that allows users to send photos that delete after a certain amount of time – made news when it was called out as a sext-enabling tool. The co-founder of Snapchat denies that his app is for sexting, but concedes that Anthony Weiner’s sexting scandal helped inspire the company.

Whatever their intended purpose, applications such as Snapchat and Facebook’s Poke are sparking a national dialogue about the issue of sexting and the rise of digital abuse. Technology that automatically deletes pictures after a certain amount of time can give the false impression of security. But the fact is sexting has serious consequences that can’t be mitigated by an app.

According to a study in Pediatrics, sexting has been linked to risky sexual behavior among teens. Additionally, teens who sext do so often as a result of pressure or coercion from their friends or significant others. In certain states, teens who sext are even at risk of being prosecuted under child pornography laws. Those convicted may face serious time in prison as well becoming registered sex offenders.

A 2012 study reported that 28 percent of teens had sent fully nude pictures of themselves. Compare this to 2008, when only 20 percent of teens reported sending nude or even semi-nude photos. As more teens gain access to technology, sexting will continue to be a pervasive issue facing our society. The response will demand attention and cooperation from parents, educators, and teens.

To learn more about That’s Not Cool, our anti-digital abuse campaign aimed at teens, visit: To learn more about effective responses to teen sexting, visit our Guide for Judges and Other Professionals.