Column: Teen sexting a concern for all

Dan Armstrong

Growing up in the 1980s, my parents taught me to watch out for strangers. Children’s television specials at the time reinforced that message. I can still quote the theme to 1985’s “Too Smart for Strangers” featuring a dancing, red balloon-holding Winnie the Pooh singing the special’s title song. G.I. Joe cartoon public service announcements taught me to never do what a stranger says or give them my address. I knew that if I encountered one of these malevolent individuals, I should scream, run away and tell a trusted adult.

Today’s threats are more difficult to recognize than seeing a degenerate trying to get you to open your front door or get you into their vehicle.

A 2014 Drexel University study based on an anonymous online survey revealed more than half (54 percent) of its undergraduate respondents had sent and/or received sexual text messages, commonly known as “sexting,” as minors. Of that 54 percent, more than half (28 percent) said they exchanged sexts with photos.

The act of taking and transmitting nude photos of anyone under 18 years old may be prosecuted under federal law as the manufacturing and distribution of child pornography, even if the person doing it is not an adult.

Threats of legal issues don’t seem to be stopping many kids from sexting.

Four percent of 12- to 17-year-olds sent sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves to someone else, according to a 2009 Pew Research study. The report says those involved in this normally do it as romantic partners in lieu of sexual activity, as an experimental phase before sexual activity, or part of a sexual relationship. However, many of these photos get passed around to others and cannot be undone.

A 2008 survey from The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy showed 15 percent of teens said they sexted with someone they just met.

A 2016 Barna study showed “the cavalier attitude” most teens and young adults have regarding pornography, especially in regard to sexting, saying this “may indicate that sexting is becoming an accepted practice of dating culture.”

There are about 30 million teens in the U.S. So just the 4 percent of teens who admit to sharing them means roughly 1.2 million teens voluntarily produced and distributed child pornography of themselves.

Let’s put that in perspective. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have a “Porn Performer” or “Adult Actor” section, so let’s add up all possible categories. 2015 BLS numbers for actors is 50,570, for dancers it is 10,030, and 14,570 for a combined section of entertainers and performers, sports and related workers, all other. Add up those categories and you get 75,170. Even if all of those jobs were porn performers, it’s only 6.2 percent of the number of young people who admitted to taking nude photos of themselves and texting them when they were under 18.

Fortunately, child porn is mostly difficult to find online. Websites can be tracked and the perpetrators would likely be located. It is predominantly found on personal computers, portable drives and DVDs, which makes finding statistics on how much child porn is out there difficult to obtain. That’s why the combination of average American homes producing and distributing child porn by those younger than 18 likely outweighs any other means.

There’s justifiable outrage when children are sexually abused by others and recorded for anyone to see. But the much higher number of kids who do this to themselves deserves our concern, too.

Dan Armstrong is the corporate communications specialist at Covenant Eyes.