The majority of teenagers have smartphones. A new report has analyzed 39 studies featuring approximately 10,300 teenagers and found that one in four have sexted. The report was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics, according to Time.
The report shows that 15% of teens say that they send sexts—sexual messages images or videos—while 27% receive them. The report also says that this activity increases with age.
Parents are especially worried in how to help their teens navigate a digital world in which sending and receiving texts could account for illegal behavior.
“The topic is of pressing concern for most parents, who are faced with the double threat of trying to understand the workings of the digital world, while also having to navigate conversations around sexual behavior with their teens,” says Sheri Madigan, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute at the University of Calgary in Canada, who was the author of the study.
She points to the fact that many young people “lack awareness of digital security and safety” by taking nude photos and disseminating them. One in eight teens said that they have forwarded a sext, which accounts as nonconsensual sexting.
“Sexting does become a problem when youth are pressured or coerced into sexting,” says Madigan. “It is also a problem when teens fail to realize the potential consequences of sending nude images or videos. They may not realize or appreciate the potential permanence of the sent images.”
The act of sending explicit messages or images can be illegal. In states like Arizona, New York, Texas and Georgia for instance, such activity could be classified as illegal. Some prosecutors view (and prosecute) teens that engage in sexting as sexual offenders.
The issue has taken on national attention with organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) becoming involved. In 2017, the organization filed a friend of the court brief to appeal such a conviction. A 17-year-old diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome was convicted for sending a nude photo to an adult woman. He was punished under Washington state's child pornography laws. "The purpose of Washington’s child pornography law is to prevent minors from being sexually exploited or abused for someone else’s personal gratification or commercial gain, not to criminalize young people for experimenting with their sexuality," the ACLU argued.