A new study about sexting by teens that zoomed in on a single high school found that “nearly 20% reported they had ever sent a sexually explicit image of themselves via cell phone, while almost twice as many reported that they had ever received a sexually explicit picture via cell phone and, of these, over 25% indicated that they had forwarded such a picture to others,” the authors, researchers at the University of Utah, report in a recent article in Archives of Sexual Behavior. [Any percentage is too high, but I hope parents who read reports like this remember that the vast majority of young people are smart about digital media sharing.] With the permission of school officials and the students’ parents, the authors surveyed 606 students representing 98% of the available student body at a private high school in the US Southwest. They wrote that “less than 1% of parents declined to have their child participate, and all but two students whose parents permitted their participation did so.”
Here’s an important takeaway in the article for parents, educators, and law enforcement people: Knowing about serious legal and psychological repercussions is not a deterrent for some young people. “Of those reporting having sent a sexually explicit cell phone picture, over a third did so despite believing that there could be serious legal and other consequences attached to the behavior.” Clearly some social norms need to develop around sexting – including an understanding of the betrayal and violation of trust that forwarding intimate photos of someone else can represent. And educating young people about sharing photos of themselves needs to include discussion about what constitutes self-respect where digital media are concerned. No question this will take time, but the discussions need to get going!
See also my post about a study published last December in the medical journal Pediatrics which surveyed a broader age-range – 10-to-17-year-olds – and, possibly because of the younger ages included, got much lower numbers (the study, from researchers at the University of New Hampshire, looked at a nationally representative sample and found that 2.5% of 10-to-17-year-olds had created or sent “sexts” in the past year, but only half of those were sexually explicit).