Teen Sexting Revelations Should Make Parents Worry Less

textingYou know that scary study that came out a couple of years ago that found an alarming 20 percent of teens had either sent or posted sexually photos or videos of themselves (i.e., "sexted")? It was followed not long thereafter by another study that found 4 percent of teens who had cellphones admitted to sending either naked or nearly naked pix or videos of themselves; 15 percent of those surveyed said they'd received those sorts of images. Ugh.

Well, parents can breathe a little easier now. Two new studies reveal that the problem is probably not that bad.

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One, just published in the journal Pediatrics, found that, while 10 percent of kids between the ages of 10 and 17 said they'd either received or sent provocative images in the past year, only 2.5 percent had appeared in or created those images. Only about 1 percent said they'd sent images that included full-on nudity. The other study, presented to the American Public Health Association last month, found that 10 percent of the Boston high school students surveyed had sent a sexually suggestive image or message in the last year, and 5 percent said they had received one. Those numbers are still way too high (any amount other than zero is too high), but at least they're not 20 percent.

The reasons for the different survey results are not entirely clear. It might be due to different methodology, or perhaps different groups surveyed. And it's also unclear if the problem was ever as extreme as we parents were led to believe. (Media hype, anyone?) But some experts think the different results may actually mark a real decline reflecting the fact that teens are becoming more aware of the risks of sexting.

Let's hope the experts are right -- that fewer teens are sexting because they understand that sexting is a really bad idea that can have really bad consequences, legally and socially. We parents need to make a concerted effort to talk to our kids about the risks of posting revealing material of all sorts online, and sending them on their mobile devices. Things often fall into the wrong hands. Today's boyfriend or girlfriend could be tomorrow's enemy. And our kids have to protect themselves, not just from shame and ridicule during their teenage years, but for the long term.

My kids aren't yet teens, and they don't yet have cellphones or unsupervised access to a computer. But when they do start to email and text and Facebook and blog, I plan to tell them that everything they send or post online -- and in particular every image or video -- should stand up to the theoretical-boss test: Would I want my future employer to see this? If the answer is no, they should take their finger off the send button and hit delete instead. It's no exaggeration to say their future may depend on it.

Are you worried about your kids "sexting"?

 

Image via GrowWear/Flickr

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