September 19, 2018
Posted in: Teenagers
Topics: Culture + Society
Previous research has found that about 1 in 4 young teens admits to “sexting”—the sending of nude or semi-nude images or sexually explicit messages over an electronic device such as a mobile phone. A study from Rhode Island Hospital’s Bradley Hasbro Children’s Research Center examined these behaviors in younger adolescents aged 12 to 14 years. The findings were troubling: 17% of the participants admitted to sending a sexually explicit text message in the past six months. Another 5% admitted to sending both a sexually explicit message, and a nude or semi-nude photo. Taken together, this means that nearly one in four teens surveyed had sexted in the past six months.
If you’re the parent or grandparent of a middle school student, this might be hard to believe. One caveat to keep in mind with regard to this study is that the participants surveyed were identified as having behavioral or emotional problems, meaning these results may not be applicable to the population at large. But regardless, it’s a large number of kids, and we don’t know if the number is lower—or even higher—in kids who don’t exhibit behavior problems.
This brings home the point that sexting is something we all need to be talking about, and by “we” I mean not just parents, but also teachers, pediatricians and mental health professionals. It’s not a topic most parents feel comfortable discussing—particularly with their pre-teens—but it is one we need to learn to broach.
We shouldn’t wait for our child to bring it up; we need to be leading the discussions, because most likely our kids will not. In terms of what to touch upon, there are a number of things to keep in mind:
Above all, don’t be afraid to talk to your children. These topics are uncomfortable for all of us, and unlike topics such as drinking and drug use, most of us didn’t experience this during our own adolescences. We can’t tell them what we did or didn’t do because we never had to negotiate this complicated social network. It might be helpful for them to hear that, too. Let them know you realize that it’s hard being a teen these days—much harder that it was for us in many ways—and that you’re there to support them throughout the process.
A version of this post originally published on January 29, 2014. Ellen discussed this same topic in a FOX 25 broadcast on January 6, 2014.