When the sobering statistic first surfaced that 1 out of 5 teenagers is sexting, many parents panicked. They weren’t prepared to deal with this new phenomenon that simply didn’t exist when they were growing up.
Other surveys on sexting followed, but many were more conservative in their estimates. Some reported numbers as low as 9%, which were mostly inflated by 16- and 17-year-olds, not tweens or younger teens:
- 4% of 12-year-olds have received sexts
- 20% of 16-year-olds have received sexts
- 30% of 17-year-olds have received sexts
- 46% of young adults 20-26 have received sexts
At this point parents, especially parents of tweens and younger teens, relaxed a little. Sexting was still an issue, to be sure, but in their minds it was more of a high school issue, and the sexting problem got downgraded from a major hurricane to a Category 1 tropical storm.
The problem is that while parents of younger children are putting sexting off their radar, their children are busy acting older and older. Today’s 16-year-olds behave like the 20-year-olds of five or ten years ago. This effect repeats itself right down to the preschool set – today’s preschoolers play with Spider-Man action figures and Barbie Fairytopia instead of blocks and baby dolls. Marketers even have an acronym for this trickle-down effect in childhood: KGOY (kids getting older younger.)
Younger kids are extremely quick to catch up to what older teens are doing, and parents cannot be too complacent on this issue. It’s hard for parents to begin talking to their children too early about sexting, because parental perceptions of “how old” their child is doesn’t account for KGOY.
So when do you plan on beginning to talk about sexting? When your child receives their first phone? When they hit junior high? Depending on your child, it may not be too soon to start a dialogue about sexting as early as 8 years old. Reardless of when thise conversations begin, oversight is important. Be sure to use a service like uKnowKids for mobile phone monitoring.