The term sexting derives from “sex + texting.” This has become a common means of romantic and social interaction by the current adolescent and young adult generations. Sexting involves nude or sexually suggestive images sent through electronic methods. Most, but not all such images are “selfies” or pictures taken by the subject on a cell phone, often standing in front of a mirror and snapping the image of their reflection. Other images may be taken by web cams during interactions with another person online. More than half of adolescents report they either have created or received sexted images.

These images often are intended for a romantic partner. However, many people do so impulsively  and a fail to fully think through a situation. Once sent these images can’t be retrieved. Once a relationship ends some vengeful parties widely distribute these images or post them for public viewing on social media sites. This has become enough of a problem that some states have enacted “revenge porn” laws making it illegal even if the poster initially had the consent of the person in the pictures

One thing that adolescents don’t understand is that taking a picture of anyone under eighteen, even of themselves, constitutes the production of child pornography. Sending nude images to your sweetie or sharing those images with your buddies constitutes distribution, even if all parties are minors. Many jurisdictions are understanding of such pictures being sent based in romantic relationships, naiveté and poor judgment, and no charges are filed. Other cases have led to criminal charges against one or more of the parties involved. Some of these images end up in collections of child pornography which then are re-distributed to other collectors and eventually may be viewed by thousands of people.

Social media sites and “relationship wanted” postings on Craigslist are prime sources of cyber-relationships, and little monitoring is done to ensure that adults are not “trolling for kids.” There are many social sites that specifically focus on connecting people for direct chats. Some of these sites are used for arranging casual sexual liaisons. Others involve frequent exchanges of pornography, and sometimes unwanted sexual images are received that weren’t requested. While it is important for parents to respect the privacy of their children, it also is important to know the nature of their use of the Internet. A visit to some of the Web sites visited by the child, even without examining their specific interactions, may be sufficient to warrant further discussion.

Some adults are honest about their age and post actual pictures of themselves. Some teens and ‘tweens are drawn by the attention and flattery showered on them. They develop a cyber romance and eventually nude pictures are exchanged. Other adults enjoy posing as adolescents on the Internet, posting plausible pictures of teens, claiming they are of themselves. Some predators of children have started by requesting only sexually suggestive pictures, then threatening to share them with the teen’s parents if they did not send more explicit ones. At other times it’s not difficult at all to get sexually explicit pictures. Some minors enjoy the excitement of sending their nude selfies, and do so within minutes of starting their first interaction with a stranger. Many images are sent to a person whom the taker of the picture has never met and knows little about except for the story that was pitched to them.