Sexting is here to stay, and it’s part of our teens’ world. But what are the effects of sexting on the brain? And how do we help our kids avoid the difficulties associated with it?
Sexting has become a top concern for parents of teens. One study found that one in seven teens is involved in sexting. Another study at the University of Texas Medical School reports even higher results– 28% of all teens have sent a sext. Not only are more kids sexting, but they are doing it at a younger and younger age. One-third of all middle school and high school kids have had some negative sexual comments or jokes made about them.
This upsurge in sexuality puts a lot of social pressure on kids. They already worry about what to wear, what they look like, who their friends are, what their interests are, and who they are becoming. Now we add explicit sexual pictures to that list, including nudes, and we have a recipe for disaster.
- It is linked with anxiety and depression.
- It has become the new form of cyberbullying
- It can begin with kids as young as twelve.
- Sexting messages and photos are not uncommon among middle school youth.
- Sexting has been linked to impulsive, risk-taking behavior.
We, as parents, need to be aware of what’s going on.
Effects of Sexting
The teenage brain is still developing, and hasn’t reached its full potential. Pictures of the brain show that the emotional, reactive amygdala tends to be front and center when kids make decisions. Whereas, the adult brain uses the cautious, insightful prefrontal cortex.
When kids are looking for fun, the neurotransmitter, dopamine is released. The combination of the active amygdala along with dopamine causes kids to seek more pleasure. They are looking for a positive outcome of their actions. They don’t see the downside of things. The gratification is all they can see.
If the pleasure-seeking isn’t checked, it can lead to an addiction. It’s easy to see how sexting can lead to pornography obsession.
How Parents Can Help
It’s vital for parents to have open communication with our youth about what can happen in sexting situations. Help kids look at possible outcomes of their actions, and their insightful prefrontal cortex will mature into adulthood as the years go by.
- Ask kids about what they’re involved in and how you can help them navigate social media problems. They will tell you.
- Address the fact that pictures sent to friends become part of our digital footprint, and we have no control over who screen shots them or where they go.
- Discuss what will happen to the pictures if a boyfriend/girlfriend breaks up.
- Be aware of the laws in your state governing child pornography, because if pictures become part of the internet the potential for legal ramifications is there. Make sure kids are aware of that as well.
- Talk about how hard it is to say no when peer pressure is in full force.
- Acknowledge that emotions can become intense and friendships ruined when the pressure is on.
- Talk about cyberbullies. The after-effects of cyberbullying can be devastating. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress can become all too real.
Discuss these situations with your teen. Decide together what is a good way to handle them. Kids are smart and have good ideas, and are much more engaged when they’re a part of the conversation. Work together to develop a plan that everyone thinks will work for your family.
About the Authors
Christy Monson, LMFT and Heather Boynton are the authors of Stand Up to Sexting, An Open Conversation for Parents and Kids. It’s available on Amazon.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Parentology is an Amazon Affiliate and can earn a commission off purchases made through the above link.
Effects of Sexting on the Brain — Sources
Association of Sexting With Sexual Behaviors and Mental Health Among Adolescents: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. JAMA Pediatrics
Dangers of Teen Sexting (pdf)
Sexting, Mental Health, and Victimization Among Adolescents: A Literature Review
Prevalence of Multiple Forms of Sexting Behavior Among Youth JAMA Pediatrics
National Institutes of Health
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry