A new study, announced on Wednesday, finds that nearly one in five teens have sent sexually explicit photos from their mobile phone- many of them with little or no awareness of the possible psychological, social, and sometimes legal consequences of doing so.
While each country varies in its age of consent laws, in many US states, those sending or receiving sexual pictures of people under 18 risk charges as serious as possession or distribution of child pornography. But even when minors understand the legal consequences, many continue to sext.
In the study, Donald Strassberg and his team at the University of Utah recruited 606 students from a private high school in the southwest US who completed a questionnaire about their experiences of sexting and their understanding of what consequences they believed were associated with being caught sexting. The students were also asked about their attitudes toward sending sexually explicit mobile phone photos- for example, in what context it might be right or wrong.
Nearly 20 percent of the students, some as young as 14, said they had sent a sexually explicit image of themselves via mobile phone, and nearly twice as many said that they had received a sexually explicit photo.
Of those receiving such a picture, over 25 percent indicated that they had forwarded it to others.
The findings were recently published online in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.
Last month, British officials issued a report stating that teenage girls are experiencing increasing pressure to text and email sexually explicit pictures of themselves, with many accepting it "as a fact of life." In the report, sexting was said to affect more than a third of adolescents under the age of 18.
What is a concerned parent to do? Psychology Today magazine recommends talking to your teen about the negative consequences of sexting and outline your expectations by creating a computer/mobile phone contract. You can also opt to have your child take an Internet safety class.
Also, randomly have your teen share with you the photos in their phone or computer, and make sure they understand that once a photo is out there on the internet, there is no way of retrieving it, even if it's deleted from the phone or computer.