Dr. Sheri Madigan and her research team wanted to know the prevalence of sexting behavior (sharing of sexually explicit images and videos through technological means) among youth. Between 2006 and 2016, they conducted a meta-analysis, looking at 39 different studies about sexting that included 110,380 young people from all over the world, including the United States.
Studies indicate that sexting has been on the rise among teens while teen sex has declined. Findings from the meta-analysis indicate that:
- 1 in 7 teens send sexts,
- 1 in 4 receives sext messages, and
- 41 percent of teens are having sex according to a 2018 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Additionally, older teens are sexting more often than younger teens.
While boys are often portrayed as the requestors of nude images, studies show that girls and boys are equally as likely to participate in sexting. Plus, most of them use their smartphones versus a computer when they sext.
Compared to boys, girls report feeling more pressure to sext and worry they will be judged harshly whether they sext or not. If they do, there is slut-shaming. If they don’t, they are considered a prude. Boys, however, may see sexting as a way to showcase their social status.
Many sexters assume the images will remain private, but the research indicates that:
- 12.5 percent of teens are forwarding intimate photos without the sender’s consent.
- Another 8.4 percent of teens had one of their own sexts forwarded without their consent.
According to the research team, these findings raise some concerns and challenges. Teens may feel that sexting is an expectation if everybody else is doing it. When sexting is coerced and images are used as a form of blackmail or a threat, the combination of digital insecurity and the teen brain processes could lead to compromised safety. Since teens’ brains are still developing, their capacity to critically analyze digital tools and apps may not be enough to keep them safe. So, what can parents do to help?
If you're a parent, Madigan encourages you to talk with your teens about healthy dating relationships, peer pressure, digital security, sexuality and citizenship. Make it an ongoing conversation where you're being proactive instead of reactive.
Also, discuss strategies for dealing with peer pressure surrounding sexting and the potential consequences of sending sexts. Once someone sends an image or video, there is no control over who sees it.
Family Zone offers these 10 tips to help you deal with sexting:
- Have open and honest conversations with your children.
- Don’t abstain from educating your own children about sex and sexualized behaviors. If you don’t educate them, somebody else will.
- Do not assume that your child will not pass on a nude photo or take one of themselves and share it.
- Discuss the risks of sexting, including how they would feel if their photos were shared.
- Be very clear about the law and criminal consequences with your children.
- Discuss their digital footprint and what that means.
- Explain their digital citizenship responsibilities.
- Warn your children to never share photos with people they don’t physically know offline. Consider providing examples of grooming and pedophilia.
- Attempt to explore if these behaviors are part of a bigger problem with self-esteem and confidence. Like everyone, children like attention and reassurance, but as parents we need to help our kids find healthier ways to feel good about themselves.
- Ensure they know who they can talk to and where they can get help if needed. They may not want that to be you, so ensure they have a safe person to confide in.
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If you'd like additional resources to help guide these conversations, here are some good ones: Common Sense Media’s Sexting Handbook, Common Sense Media, Connect Safely, Social LEADia: Moving Students from Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership.