A few weeks ago, a new study about teen sexting made headlines by concluding that only one out of every five teens sext. I’ll be honest: I didn’t buy their conclusions. I fully believe that in their study, only 20% of the kids they asked admitted to the behavior (even though in any informal survey I have ever taken when teaching kids or interviewing them for a project, my number would be far closer to 80%), but the conclusion seemed to be that we don’t need to worry about the issue because it’s much smaller scale than we think. What’s my beef? That regardless of whose numbers are correct, when we were kids, we never had to think about seeing Jimmy from math class in the buff.
When I teach sixth graders, I ask them the following questions: Has anyone ever asked you or someone you know for a nude? Have you or someone you know ever received one? And I swear, 100% of the hands go up. When I drill down, it’s really that they know someone who has been solicited or on the receiving end — they themselves haven’t necessarily been asked. But still, the numbers of someone who knows someone at age 11 or 12 are impressive.
I felt somewhat vindicated when I found this article, albeit years old, making the case for nudes and sexts as common currency among adults. We know this by now, right? That our adult friends are engaging in nude swapping as often as our kids? Especially our single friends on dating sites. Don’t believe me? Go ask them and they will tell you about the currency of naked pictures, sometimes wanted but oftentimes not. When this particular article was written back in 2015, a survey of 18 - 82 year olds reported that a whopping 88% of them were part of sexting culture.
My point here is that naked image swapping is common — more common among our kids than we want to believe and more common among adults than we often acknowledge. So instead of debating whether its happening, let’s figure out how to talk about it: how to prepare our kids for what they are going to see; how to say no if they don’t want to participate; what are the legal ramifications if they do; and what can happen to reputations when images get passed around. At any age.