A new study published January 6th in the online journal Pediatrics reminds us that the world has changed in exponential fashion since the advent of social media and texting.
The study focused on group of at risk 7th graders and their “sexting” habits — sexting is defined as either sending sexually explicit message via cell phone, or sending pics that are sexual in nature. The study showed that 20% of the at risk kids had sexted; 17% had sent sexually explicit messages and 5% sent sexual photos of themselves.
The implications are far reaching: the research team discovered that teens who sexted were 3 times more likely to have had oral sex and more than twice as likely to have had vaginal sex.
In addition to risky behavior, the problem with sexting is that once a picture or message is sent, it can literally go viral and the results can be devastating, as the 2008 suicide of Jessi Logan demonstrates.
According to the study 71% of 12-13 year olds have access to cell phones — 68% have their own. 23% have smart phones. Since cellphones and smart phones are here to stay, it’s up to parents to practice due diligence when it comes to protecting their children. Following are some suggestions for parents from commonsensemedia.org:
- Parents should be proactive when it comes to “the sexting talk.” Don’t wait until it happens, the key is to prevent it from happening in the first place
- Emphasize the fact that once a suggestive picture or text is sent, it cannot be retrieved and they no longer have control over it
- Let them know that you understand they may feel pressured by their peers to send inappropriate texts
- Tell them not to believe a girlfriend or boyfriend when they say they won’t show it to anyone else
- Discuss other inappropriate behavior, such as texting harassment (constant texting or IMing from someone)