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Teen sexting: Should parents be overly concerned?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Teens don't sext as often as believed, finds two new studies.

Recent concerns about teen sexting may be overblown, finds two new studies. Researchers from the University of New Hampshire Crimes against Children Research Center, publishing in the journal Pediatrics, looked at police cases to find very few teens are arrested for sexting – sending nude images of each other - which is considered child pornography.

"Lots of people may be hearing about these cases discovered by schools and parents because they create a furor, but it still involves a very small minority of youth," said lead author Kimberly Mitchell, research assistant professor of psychology at the UNH Crimes against Children Research Center.

Findings from the 2011 Australasian Sexual Health Conference in Canberra, found when teens do send sexually explicit texts, it may be from peer pressure. The suggestion that teens sext more than found in the newest studies came from interviews a small number of teenagers.

In one new study, UNH researchers surveyed 1,560 Internet users ages 10 through 17. They asked how often young people surveyed sent sexual images on their cell phones on the internet.

Just one percent said they had ever sent images that would violate child pornography laws – naked breast or imaged of genitalia.

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Another 2.5 percent said they had engaged in some sort of sexting in the past year.

In the second study that looked at 675 sexting cases from law enforcement agencies, the researchers found just 18 percent of teens had been arrested for sexting that violated laws.

Thirty-six percent of arrest cases stemmed from harassment of other youth or using images to blackmail other youth.

Lead author Janis Wolak and senior researcher at the UNH Crimes against Children Research Center said, most law enforcement officials handle sexting cases thoughtfully and don’t treat teens like sex offenders.

The study found teens aren’t distributing sexual images of each other to the extent that parents may have feared. Ninety percent of teens said when they do engage in sexting, the image never goes viral.

Image credit: Morguefile



As a parent of a future teenage child this study about teen texting scares me. How school and peers can so powerfully influence our children.