More than 20 percent of middle school age children are engaging in sexting, the act of sending racy text messages with or without an explicit photo, according to new research.
In a study published in the February edition of the medical journal Pediatrics, the publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics, doctors found that sexting is happening at alarming rates among adolescents. Participation in sexting was linked to the increased likelihood of risky sexual behaviors.
“Sexting behavior was not uncommon among middle school youth and co-occurred with sexual behavior,” the study’s authors wrote. “These data suggest that phone behaviors, even flirtatious messages, may be an indicator of risk. Clinicians, parents, and health programs should discuss sexting with early adolescents.”
The study was conducted by doctors at the Bradley-Hasbro Children’s Research Center at the Rhode Island Hospital and The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, located in Providence, R.I.
More than 70 seventh graders were asked to answer a computer survey regarding their sexual behavior, approved sexual activity, emotional intelligence, and intentions for sexual interactions.
“Twenty-two percent of the sample reported having sexted in the past six months,” the report stated. “Sexual messages were endorsed by 17 percent, sexual messages and photos by 5 percent.”
Researchers found that adolescent girls and Latino middle schoolers had a higher incidence of endorsing sexts that included pictures.
“Sexting of any kind was associated with higher rates of engaging in a variety of sexual behaviors, and sending photos was associated with higher rates of sexual activity than sending text messages only,” the report found. “This was true for a range of behaviors from touching genitals over clothes to oral sex, to vaginal sex.”
While the Internet offers many benefits, it can also be a very dangerous place when illicit photos and text messages never meant for public viewing begin to circulate.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children took up the issue with their NetSmartz Workshop, an effort to prevent teens from sexting before any embarrassing and emotionally detrimental consequences take place.
The center recommends that teens think about possible outcomes of sending a naked photo to someone else that is underage. Consequences range from public humiliation to backlash from educational institutions teens apply to after their high school career.
Teens are also encouraged to not forward sexts given to them by others, as this could lead to charges of child pornography.
Increasingly, states are beginning to enforce laws meant to deter the trend. For instance, Georgia teens caught sexting with other individuals 18 or under could face a misdemeanor charge.
“In 2013, at least nine states introduced bills or resolutions aimed at ‘sexting’—where minors send sexually explicit or nude or semi-nude photos by cell phone,” according to data from the National Conference of State Legislators. “At least three states—Arkansas, Georgia and West Virginia—enacted legislation in 2013.”