Teens and "Sexting": What's the Risk? | Health
A new study by the University of Southern California finds that teenagers that engage in “sexting,” or sending sexually explicit messages or photos, are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors.
The survey found that one of every seven Los Angeles high schoolers with a cell phone has sent a sexually explicit message or photo. And the Los Angeles teens who “sext” were found to be seven times more likely to be sexually active than those who said they’d never sent sexually explicit messages. The 2011 study was published in the journal of Pediatrics last week.
The most recent study follows a similar study of Houston, Texas high schoolers, released earlier this summer, that found one in four teens had sent a naked photo of themselves through text message or email, and those kids were also much more likely to engage in sexual behavior.
Researchers say that sexting appears to be an indicator for sexual behavior. It can also get teenagers in trouble in other ways. There’s the concern that explicit photos can end up on the internet or that teens who share racy photos could be charged with child pornography.
So, what is a parent to do if they find out their child has been sexting? Planned Parenthood’s sexual health educator Jennifer Warren says a parent who discovers sexually explicit texts should start a dialog with their teen.
“Parents should find out if the sexting is a result of peer pressure—and find out who the intended recipient is. While it doesn’t necessarily mean the teen is engaging in risky behavior, it definitely is reason to make sure your child understands your expectations. And you should make sure they know how to protect themselves if they are sexually active,” said Warren. “It’s also important to have a conversation about unintended consequences of activities like sexting. It may seem harmless to a teenager because they don’t understand that those photos can stay on the internet forever and impact others’ opinions of them.”
Parents can use media coverage of the latest celebrity or politician sexting scandal as a jumping off point for a conversation. “It might serve as a life lesson for teens,” said Warren. “Teenagers can be very sensitive to embarrassment. If they understand that sexting can lead to humiliation, they may be more careful.”
Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region offers educational programs for parents, teens, and young adults in youth groups, church groups and community-based programs. Click here for more information about Planned Parenthood’s educational programs.