Teen sexting is on the rise

Sexting might seem like an adult pastime, but it’s common among teens. So common, in fact, that you shouldn’t ignore it, even if you think you’re sure your child would never do it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that parents have an ongoing conversation with kids about sexting. The time to start the discussion is when children are old enough to have a phone. A new study shows why.

How often teens sext

Researchers looked at data from more than 110,000 kids ranging from 11 to 17 years old. They found that sexting has become more popular in recent years. And teens are more likely to sext as they get older. The numbers don’t lie:

  • 15 percent of teens reported sending sexts.
  • 27 percent received sexts.
  • 12 percent forwarded sexts without consent.
  • 8 percent had a sext forwarded without consent.

The stereotype is that adolescent girls send images at the request of adolescent boys. But researchers found that isn’t necessarily true. In the study there were no gender differences in the rate of sending or receiving sexts.

There’s a lot of detail in the study. You can read about it in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

How to talk to your teen about sexting

Sexting isn’t just harmless fun. It can cause emotional distress and even have legal consequences. AAP recommends that parents talk about sexting and keep the conversation going. Here’s how:

  • Start. Even if you don’t think sexting has affected your community or your child, ask them. “Have you heard of sexting?” is a good place to start. Find out your child’s understanding.
  • Consider age. Younger kids need different info. Let them know that text messages should never contain pictures or videos of people without their clothes on.
  • Be specific. Explain that sexting often involves photos of a sexual nature. Point out that the images can be considered child pornography and that senders and receivers can be charged with a crime.
  • Verify. Make sure kids understand that sexting is serious. It’s illegal in many places and can have long-lasting consequences. Sexting can affect a kid’s chances of getting into college or getting a job.
  • Educate. Let your kids know that the internet is forever. Texts, images and videos can live on, even if they were sent through an app that deletes content. Point out that texts can be forwarded.
  • Stay informed. When sexting is in the news, share the stories with your kids and ask their thoughts. Current events can remind your kids that they can talk to you about the issue.
  • Monitor. Excessive texting can be a sign of sexting. If you have suspicions, watch their phone usage. Consider limiting the number of texts allowed each month.

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