We worry about sexting by minors. What it says about their sexual and relationship health. The short and long term effects sexually explicit photographs distributed by cell phone or posted online can have on their lives.
While we should continue to worry and do what we can to prevent such behavior, a new national study suggests that the behavior is significantly less prevalent than was previously estimated.
A study funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, US Department of Justice, and published in Pediatrics reports on a national cross-sectional telephone sample of Internet users age 10 - 17 (n=1560). Its careful sampling, detailed interview protocol, and nuanced questions provide a more accurate picture of youth (minors') involvement in sexting than was previously available.
Contrary to the earlier estimates of 20%, this study found just under 10% of youth reported appearing in, creating, distributing, or receiving nude or nearly nude images:
If we broaden the definition of sexting to include sexually suggestive photos (photos that do not show breasts, genitals, or someone's bottom), the numbers increase somewhat:
Beyond the numbers, what is important about these findings?
What insights for youth programming can be drawn from this research? What messages should we give to youth? How can we take advantage of the media attention on this issue?
Kimberly J. Mitchell, PhD, David Finkelhor, PhD, Lisa M. Jones, PhD, Janis Wolak, JD