December 5, 2011

Teen “Sexting” Serious, Not As Widespread As Feared

“Sexting”, the sending or receiving risqué photos or videos via cell phone has been in the news lately but researchers say explicit material isn´t as widespread on the cell phones of teens as some surveys have suggested.

However ,the possession and transmission of many of these photos can mean big legal trouble for minors, Frederik Joelving reports for Reuters Health.

“Right now, in most areas, it´s a criminal offense,” said Kimberly J. Mitchell, a psychologist at the University of New Hampshire in Durham and a co-author on two new reports in the journal Pediatrics. “Child pornography is by definition a sexual picture of a minor.”

Mitchell and her fellow researchers estimate that U.S. police were involved in almost 3,500 cases of sexual images produced by adolescents between 2008 to 2009. Just over one-third of the time, adults were on the receiving end, while the rest involved messages between youths.

Nearly four out of ten cases led to an arrest, including when the sexting had been “romantic” or “attention-seeking.”

The greatest concern about sexting among teens is that it may legally be considered child pornography, even private messages sent from a girl to her boyfriend or vice versa. Mitchell said parents should make their teens aware of the legal risks understand that anything they trade could end up on the internet.

“Once it´s out there you probably won´t be able to get it back,” she told Reuters Health. As far as those on the receiving end,  “we are recommending they should delete it and they certainly should not distribute it themselves,” Mitchell added.

According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a private organization based in Washington, D.C., a survey from 2008 found one in five teens had sent or posted online nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves. A 2010 follow-up survey found far fewer teens engaging in the same behavior.

Via phone interviews with more than 1,500 children ages 10 through 17, Mitchell found just 2.5 percent had appeared in or produced nude or nearly nude photos or videos. That number dropped to 1 percent if only sexually explicit material -- naked breasts, genitals or bottoms -- was included.

Between six and seven percent of the adolescents said they´d received such images or videos. “Overall, our results are actually quite reassuring,” said Mitchell.

“With any sort of new technology that kids become involved in there is a tendency to become easily alarmed,” she added. “What we are instead seeing is that sexting may just make some forms of sexual behavior more visible to adults.”

A spokesperson for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, Bill Albert, welcomed the new findings. “I wonder if teens are being as truthful as they might be,” Albert told Reuters Health, given that Mitchell and colleagues surveyed younger kids and interviewed them over the phone while their parents were around.

“It´s nothing to panic about, but it´s something to address,” he said. “It´s a good opportunity to sit down with your kid and talk about it.”


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