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Middle School Sexting and Real-Life Sex: Tips for Teens and Parents

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Does Your Child Sext?

Though the phrase itself has been around for only a decade, “sexting” has become a normalized aspect of the technological era. Hearing that older teens and adults are frequently involved in the act of sending and receiving sexually explicit text messages seems as American as apple pie. That the trend has trickled down to younger teens and adolescents, however, is a disturbing statistic. According to US News, a new study finds that younger teen students are actively engaging in sexting, and those who do are six times more likely to report engaging in sexual activity.

Published in the American Academy of Pediatrics, the study surveyed 1,200 middle school students (average age of which was 12) from the Los Angeles Unified School District. 20 percent of the students reported receiving sexually explicit messages or pictures of someone, with 5 percent reporting sending the same of themselves.

Researchers, from the University of Southern California, also found adolescents who reported receiving sexts were six times more likely to report being sexually active. Individuals who reported sending sexts were four times more likely to report sexual activity.

Of the 840 participants with access to a phone with texting capabilities, 11 percent reported having sexual intercourse.

Much of the education regarding sexting has been targeted specifically to high-school-aged teens. This study highlights the necessity of disseminating the information to an even younger audience. The authors note, “These findings call attention to the need to train health educators on how to best communicate with young adolescents about sexting in relation to sexual behavior. Middle school sexual health curricula should incorporate sexting and its potential legal, social, emotional and behavioral consequences.”

Tips for Teens

  1. Before hitting send, remember that you cannot control where this image may travel. What you send to a boyfriend or girlfriend easily could end up with their friends, and their friends, and their friends.
  2. If you forward a sexual picture of someone underage, you are as responsible for this image as the original sender. You could face child pornography charges, go to jail, and have to register as a sex offender.
  3. Think about the consequences of taking, sending, or forwarding a sexual picture of yourself or someone else underage. You could get kicked off of sports teams, face humiliation, lose educational opportunities, and even get in trouble with the law.
  4. Never take images of yourself that you wouldn’t want everyone—your classmates, your teachers, your family, or your employers—to see.

Tips for Parents

  1. If your children have sent any nude pictures of themselves, make sure they stop immediately, explaining the legal and psychological risks. Have them delete the photos. Your family doesn’t want to run the risk of having what could be deemed “child pornography” on any of its devices.
  2. The next most important thing is to have a good talk. Stay calm, be supportive and learn as much as you can about the situation. For example, see if it was impulsive behavior, a teen “romance” thing, or a form of harassment or aggression. Consider talking with other teens and parents involved, and possibly your child’s school, based on what you’ve learned, but keep your child informed and involved. Every case is unique and contextual, but if your child’s involved, so is his or her social life. Consider very carefully whether or not to involve the school. Some schools have mandatory reporting requirements, which couldmean that any case they hear about has to go to law enforcement, which could turn an already hard lesson into long-term pain.
  3. Some experts advise that you report the photo to your local police, but consider that, while intending to protect your child, you could incriminate another and possibly your own child. In some states, teachers and other school staff are required by law to report sexting photos to law enforcement. That’s why it’s usually good to talk to the kids and their parents first. If malice or criminal intent is involved, you may want to get some legal advice. Just be aware of the possibility that child-pornography charges could be filed against anyone involved.

Sources:

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Tips to Prevent Sexting; http://ncmec.vo.llnwd.net/o15/downloads/special/Sexting_Prevention.pdf

 http://www.connectsafely.org/wp-content/uploads/sexting_tips.pdf

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