According to a recent study, 30 percent of teens currently participate in “sexting,” which is the transmission of sexual content, photos or videos via text message. Additionally, about half of all teens have been asked to supply nude photos via text message.
The study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, also found that teenage girls who participated in sexting were more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as having multiple sexual partners or using drugs or alcohol before engaging in sex.
The lead author of the study, Dr. Jeff Temple, stated that sexting most likely reflected what teens were doing in their offline lives and that both genders participate in sexting. Twenty-one percent of teen girls have asked for a nude picture to be sent to them, and 42 percent of teen boys have been asked to send a nude picture via text message.
Most girls asked to sext were bothered at least a little bit by the request; many of the girls sent the pictures in spite of their discomfort. About half of boys admitted to being annoyed by requests for sexts.
The American Academy of Pediatrics shares some guidelines for talking to teens about sexting. One recommendation from the AAP is for parents to ask every day whether teens have sent text messages or used the Internet. “Did anyone text you today?” and “What did you write on Facebook (News - Alert) today?” are both valid questions for parents to be asking their teens.
The AAP suggests that parents set time limits for text messaging on a daily basis. Parents should also discourage gossip or bullying behavior among their kids so that, when kids encounter sexted images or content, they don’t participate in sharing the images with the entire world. “The primary goal in sexting incidents is to limit the victimization of the person portrayed in the image,” says the Cyberbullying Research Center (CRC).
Most of all, teens should know that in some jurisdictions, sexting is a crime. Consequences involving the police, suspension from school and notes on the offender’s permanent record could hurt the sexter’s chances of getting into college or getting a job. If you receive a sext, says the CRC, you should immediately delete the image from your phone to avoid culpability.
Parents need to take the lead to communicate with their children about sex, says Dr. Temple. “I think the more we talk about sex with our kids, the better,” Temple states.
Other experts agree. “Young people's brains are also wired to be thinking about sex and sexuality - this is a normal part of their development,” says child psychology expert, Erin Walsh. “Yet few are having good conversations with parents or other caring adults about sex, sexual decision-making, and health and high schools lack comprehensive sex education.”
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Edited by Brooke Neuman