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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sexting and Teens

Sexting and teenagers is a subject we hear about in the media, usually when there's been a problem that has led to legal ramifications for a preteen or teen.

Eric Rice, PhD et. al. recently completed a study on sexting at the LA Unified School District and how it related to sexual risky behaviors in teens.

His article in Pediatrics is called Sexually Explicit Cell Phone Messaging Associated With Sexual Risk Among Adolescents. (Pediatrics, 10.1542/peds.2012-0021)

His study found that 15% of teens with cell phone access reported sexting (either text or photos). 54% reported knowing someone who had sent a sexually explicit text. Teens whose peers sexted were more likely to engage in the behavior themselves. Adolescents who sexted were more likely to be sexually active than their counterparts who did not sext. (for more stats read his article in Pediatrics (10.1542/peds.2012-0021) or just get the basics from his abstract.

Rice et al. concluded that sexting does not act as an alternative to risky sexual behavior in a teen's real life, rather it is part of a 'cluster' of risky sexual behaviors in adolescents.

Rice recommends having a discussion of sexting and associated risky behaviors in a school based curricula.

In my opinion sexting is a topic that parents need to discuss with their teens as part of any conversation about sexuality, social media safety and Internet safety.

Technology has changed the world from when many of us were students when flashing or streaking was not uncommon. Teens today are sexting and they need to hear about this subject before they reach the age where they may feel peer pressure to indulge in this behavior. They need to know not only the social risks of sexting but the legal ramifications. It is important to let your son or daughter know how you feel about sexting and why.

Inform them that images or texts they've sent may be posted on the Internet where they will become a permanent. Sexting isn't like 'what happens in high school stays in high school.' No, those images or sexts, often with their names attached, may become a permanent part of any search on the net.

As parents you cannot depend on a school district to cover the subject. If you want your teen to be exposed to your values about this subject then you need to sit down and discuss it with them. More than once. Like any kind of good sex education it is an ongoing topic that needs to be addressed more than just once as your teen matures.

I know, for many parents talking about sex is uncomfortable. But it's time to bite the bullet. Teens aren't going to stop doing it just because you are uncomfortable talking about it. It's the same with sexting.

I know I'd rather sit down and talk to my kids about sexting than have them have to deal with the possibly life long problems it can cause. So make some time, plan what you want to say, and have a game plan on what to do if you think your child is sexting.

Have you had a frank discussion about the dangers of sexting? What would you do if you thought your teen was sexting? Do you think there is a difference between sending sexually explicit text messages versus sexually explicit photos? And do you know a good lawyer and/or psychologist? Because if you don't sit down with your teens and cover this topic in depth there is a chance your teen will need the services of both.

Let me know what you think--is sexting dangerous to your teen? Is sexting a gateway to risky behavior or just a behavior that teens already involved in risky behaviors take part in? Or is this a subject that has been blown out of proportion?

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