The scary news stories are everywhere: kids under the age of 18 sending one another explicit images or messages, an alarming practice known as sexting. Kids aren’t fully aware of the repercussions that sending a nude image of themselves to friends may have, being more concerned about being liked and popular. But is sexting as common among kids as the stories imply? A new study may hold the answer.
Conventional thinking on sexting
As cellphones became more prevalent, so did the studies on the many ways children were misusing them. A 2009 survey of teens aged 13 to 19 — by the U.S. National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy — proclaimed 20 per cent of teens had sent a sexually suggestive photo or video of themselves to someone else. That same year, a Pew Research Center study found 15 per cent of teens said they’d received a sexual image or video from a friend.
And in late 2011, the American Public Health Association found 10 per cent of some 23,000 Boston-area high school boys sent a sext over the course of one year.
All information that could be disconcerting for parents who have children with a cellphone.
A new study suggests sexting may not be as prevalent as all of this information suggests.
According to researchers at the University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center in Durham, 2.5 per cent of young people who use the Internet (approximately 1,500 of them) engaged in some sort of sexting act, and only 1 per cent admitted the activity was lewd (featuring nakedness, etc.). This means appearing in, creating or receiving such sexty images is far from “normal” in the minds of children. In fact, it’s not even a commonplace act.
So what’s going on?
One reason researchers believe sexting may be on the decline is more and more parents are taking the time to discuss the issue and its implications with their children. (Researchers suggest the more open and honest parents are, the more receptive children will be to hearing their advice.) The other is that many children who are on the Internet have seen, first-hand, the consequences of sexting acts, thanks to scandals like that of Anthony Weiner, and have started to take measures to avoid such problems. They’re also telling parents (or figures of authority) when they do receive an image that’s lewd.