More Middles Schoolers Sexting
January 6, 2014

More ‘At-Risk’ Middle Schoolers Sexting

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

About one in five middle-school kids are engaging in risqué behavior through text messages, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers found that 22 percent of at-risk seventh graders are participating in sexting, the act of sending text messages with sexual content.

The study included 410 participants between 12 and 14 years old from five urban public middle schools in Rhode Island between 2009 and 2012. The volunteers were asked to fill out a questionnaire designed to find out about sexting behavior, sexual activities, intentions to have sex, perceived approval of sexual activity, and emotional regulation skills.

“This study aimed to examine the prevalence of sexting behaviors (sexually explicit messages and/or pictures) among an at-risk sample of early adolescents as well as the associations between sexting behaviors and sexual behaviors, risk-related cognitions, and emotional regulation skills. It also aimed to determine whether differences in risk were associated with text-based versus photo-based sexts,” the team wrote in the journal.

According to the findings, 17 percent of the students had sent texts only, while five percent sent both texts and photos. Adolescents who were engaging in these activities were more likely to engage in other sexual behaviors as well. These students reported higher perceptions of approval for sexual behavior from parents, peers and the media. They also had higher intentions to engage in sexual behavior, lower emotional awareness and lower emotional self-efficacy.

Teens who reported being further along in puberty as well as those who had trouble processing their emotions were more likely to have admitted to sexting.

"It could be that for kids who have trouble with emotional processing that it's a little bit easier to sext somebody than to say face-to-face, 'Hey, I like you' and see what that response is," Christopher Houck, the study’s lead author and from Rhode Island Hospital's Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center in Providence, told Reuters.

The researchers found that at-risk teenagers who participated in sexting were four to seven times more likely to engage in a variety of sexual behaviors, and those who sent photos were at even higher risk of early sexual activity.

The team recommends that parents and guardians pay more attention to a teens’ electronic communications because it could be an early indicator for sexual risk behaviors that can lead to consequences like pregnancy or disease.

“These data suggest that phone behaviors, even flirtatious messages, may be an indicator of risk. Clinicians, parents, and health programs should discuss sexting with early adolescents,” the team wrote in the journal.