In regards to sexting, parents have been swamped with a range of statistics from several different studies over the years. In 2009, the Pew Research Center found that 4% of teens ages 12-17 say they have engaged in sexting, while 15% say they have received a sext from someone they know (read more). Then in 2010, Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D. and Justin Patchin, Ph.D. from the Cyberbullying Research Center found that 8% of youth between age 11 and 18 have sent sext messages, while 13% had received one (read more). And in 2011, Pediatrics, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, found that 7.1% of 10 to 17 year olds said they had received nude or nearly nude images of others, while 5.9% of the same group reported receiving sexually explicit images (read more).
Trying to keep up with the numbers can pose a real headache, but what matters the most are the statistics today. The Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine conducted a study this year that gives parents plenty of reason to have a real conversation with their children and teens about sexting.
In the study, researchers looked at 948 high school students who had a mean age of 15.8 years to evaluate the frequency of sexting and how it’s related to sexual behavior in teens. They found that 28% of the students reported having ever sent a naked picture of themselves through text or email.
To add to this disturbing trend, the researchers also found that 77.4% of those who had sexted had had sex, compared with only 42% of those who had not. Furthermore, their study highlighted that children who sext are also at a higher risk for engaging in risky sexual behavior, which they defined as using alcohol and drugs before having sex, and having more than one sexual partner over the previous year. Of the kids who sexted, 55.8% of them engaged in “risky sexual behavior” whereas only 34.6% of the non-sexting kids engaged in the same behavior.
Drawing from this academic study, I would like to reiterate my two concerns about sexting and its effect on our youth. First, children who engage in sexting have the potential to ruin their teenage years (sometimes their entire reputation) if the person they send the nude photo to decides to post the image on the Internet or share it with friends. Sadly, we’ve seen how an innocent photo exchange can easily turn into an extreme case of cyberbullying. Some, like JessicaLogan, have even taken their own life after their embarrassing photos went public.
My other concern is that sexting is now considered a gateway into more dangerous behavior, as shown by the correlation between sexting and “risky sexual behavior”. By taking such risks, children are increasing their chances of coming into contact with sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and in the long run possibly suffering from the side effects of prolonged alcohol or drug use.
Sexting isn’t something we can ignore, and it won’t go away on its own. As parents, it is our responsibility to face the reality of this situation and incorporate it into how we parent our children:
- Start by creating a dialogue with your child, and keep it going on a regular basis. A casual discussion about sexting at the dinner table or on the way to school can serve as a great reminder to your child as they prepare to face a new day at school, with their friends and all the social pressures that come with it.
- Create awareness in your community, among your friends and family, and share your knowledge about sexting whenever the opportunity arises.
- If your child doesn’t have a smartphone yet, consider holding off until you feel they’re mature enough to handle the responsibility. A “non-smart phone” is always an option—it’s the way I’ve introduced my children to responsible cell phone use. If you want to slowly introduce responsible texting to your child, there are great ways to do that.
- Take advantage of the cell-phone monitoring tools that are available to you from third-party companies and your cell-phone provider. Monitoring what your child does online and via their cellphone is responsible parenting.