Sexting on the Rise Among Teens, Preteens

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For teens and preteens exploring their sexuality, smart phones have fueled the growing popularity of sexting.

A study recently published in JAMA Pediatrics revealed that about one in four children age 11 to 17 has participated in sexting, defined as "the sending or receiving of nude or seminude images or sexually explicit text messages."

The actual number could be as high as 50 percent, believes Michael Barrow, MD, sports medicine and family practice physician with Samaritan North Family Physicians in Dayton, Ohio. He talked with Premier Health Now about CNN’s recent report on sexting and the implications for children and parents.

“Lots of kids think there’s no harm in it,” he says. “They don’t anticipate that these images could live forever on the internet, where future boyfriends, girlfriends, employers and spouses could see them.”

He shares tips for parents to keep communication lines open with young people whose still-developing brains often lack foresight and impulse control:

  1. Talk with your child about possible consequences of sexting. “In one rural county, a 14-year-old boy nearly went to trial for sending inappropriate pictures to his girlfriend. Her mom called the police, and the local prosecutor wanted to make the boy an example. Don’t let other people have that kind of control over you,” Dr. Barrow says.
  2. Spend more time listening than talking. Try asking: “Do you know people at school who are sexting? What do you think about that? How would you handle it?”
  3. Don’t shut down communication with judgmental, accusatory statements like, “You’re not doing this, are you?”
  4. Know your child’s passwords and check his or her phone regularly. Be aware that children may have multiple accounts.
  5. Stay connected with other parents and your child’s school, which may provide educational programs on sexting.

“Parents think ‘it’s not going to be my kid.’ Start talking early so your child doesn’t go down this path,” Dr. Barrow advises.

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