With romantic conversations taking place over a screen more often than face-to-face, sexting – sending sexually explicit photos or messages by phone – has become a regular facet of many adolescent relationships. Professionals caution that parents should talk with their teens about the risks and dangers surrounding sexting. A new study finds that adolescents who have behavioral or emotional issues may be especially vulnerable to sexting, which may lead them to engage in other sexual behaviors at an early age. Experts in the mental health field are taking note of these statistics and encourage guardians to talk to their children early and often about the risks of sexting.
Emotional and Behavioral Risks
The researchers examined the communications of children with behavioral and emotional problems to find ways to help these adolescents reduce their risky behaviors. Children with behavioral and emotional problems need specific care and help in making good life choices and understanding responsibility. The 420 children who participated in the study were between the ages of 12 and 14. Over a six month period more than one in five of those adolescents who had behavioral or emotional issues had engaged in sexting. An earlier study recorded that one in four teenagers had engaged in sexting. While teens in general sext, researchers see a special concern for children with mental health issues
From Sexting to Sex
Study participants who had engaged in sexting were between four and seven times more likely to engage in physical sexual behaviors. Jeff Temple, an associate professor and director of behavioral health and research at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, believes that sexting blurs boundaries between online and offline relationships, and modes of intimacy are changing along with communication modes. Adolescents are under a lot of pressure to keep up technologically and socially, and often those two things go together. According to the study, 60 percent of teenagers had been asked to share nude photos via e-mail or text message. Some may feel pressured because “everybody is doing it” and that it’s “no big deal,” but it can be a big deal when it comes back to hurt someone emotionally.
Talking About Sex in the Internet Age
The old “sex talk” between parent and child has changed quite a bit over the last decade. While parents still need to cover biology, safety and responsibility, these pertain to more than just face-to-face contact. Today’s parents must also discuss the risks of sexting, which can put an adolescent’s safety at risk in multiple ways. As they say, nothing over the Internet is private. Pictures or sexual language may encourage sexual predators to the person sexting. Images or words may find their way to unintended recipients, causing embarrassment or shame. Not only is a person’s dignity compromised, but they could also lose their job. Parents who have adolescents with emotional and behavioral issues may need to give “the talk” earlier than they had planned. From early on they have the world at their fingertips. Sharing your concerns will help empower your children and increase their safety throughout their teen ye