This report states that both young men and women experience peer pressure to share sexual images of themselves in the phenomenon known as 'Sexting'. The study highlighted the pressure young people experienced from their peers to engage in sexting and the importance of their voice in developing ways to prevent and deal with the problem.
Boys can be ostracised by their peers or called 'gay' if they fail to participate and show their friends images of girls on their phone or computer. Girls also feel under pressure to share images of themselves, especially if they have also viewed images of girls they know. A US survey found over 51% of girls had sent sexy images or messages as a result of pressure from a guy.
However, this is not just harmless fun between teenagers. Some young people have been charged with child pornography (in 2007, 32 teens in Victoria, Aus were charged with child pornography offences) and placed on the sex offenders list for having explicit photos of young teens on their phone or computer. It is illegal to have a naked or semi-naked photo of someone under 18 on your phone or computer, to forward it to someone else and you can be charged even if the photo is of yourself and you agree to it being sent. Most young people are probably unaware of this and that a pressing 'send' could have devastating consequences for them and their lives.
What may have started out as an exchange between two people can end up being shared between many at a school or even worse on the internet, with some even making their way onto porn sites. One girl's images ended up being shared around local schools and she was harassed, called names and bullied thereafter resulting in her commiting suicide.
Young people are under pressure to fit in with the group, to do what their peers do so as they are not ostracised, excluded, teased, made fun of or laughed at etc. It can be a very powerful force that seems to make people do things against their better judgment and which if left to their own devices they may not choose to do. They may feel that it is not right for them, that they are not really comfortable with it and yet they feel forced or compelled to go along with it.
It takes a strong teenager to be able to say no to peer pressure, someone who has the self respect and self honouring to listen to what they truly feel and follow that - rather than the external pressure to conform. Perhaps the best thing we could teach young people would be to listen to what they really feel and to honour that, to be able to say no and stick with it. To know that even if that meant losing a few so called 'friends' that would not be the end of the world - for a true friend would respect your choice and not force you to do something against your will.
There is of course more to the underlying reasons that young people engage in sexting. It is a way of seeking intimacy without actually forming an intimate relationship, without taking the risks that would potentially involve of being rejected or getting hurt. The desire to avoid being hurt or rejected can lead people into all sorts of difficulties when it comes to relationships - something perhaps many of us can relate to in one way or another.
However, imagine if we instead empowered young people to feel and know first not just that they are worth loving but that they are in fact love and to honour that by being self-loving, self-honouring, self-respecting. In that way they can feel for themselves the true harm of sexting and that it is coming from an emptiness and the seeking of love, affection and intimacy but in a way that is not true. The more they realise, know and live that they are love, the more they will be open to forming an intimate relationship with another who is also self-respecting, self-honouring and self-loving.
However, it is not just about teaching it but living it - not just talking the talk but walking the talk. Thus a more powerful way for young people to learn from parents, teachers, relatives etc is by how we treat them, how we are with them, by how we listen and respond to them, whether we truly see and 'meet' them, respect them or ignore them, dismiss them, talk down to them etc. It is for each of us to live in a self-loving, self-caring way ourselves and to offer that way of being to young people by reflection that they may choose it for themselves.
Feel free to share your comments or insights re teen sexting.