Do teenagers actually understand the potential consequences of sexting? According to a new study by Drexel University, the answer is largely “no.”
The comprehensive study, titled “Youth Sexting: Prevalence Rates, Driving Motivations, and the Deterrent Effect of Legal Consequences,” did not monitor internet activity, but instead polled over 200 students at an unnamed university in order to gain an idea of the prevalence of teen texting, and whether or not those who participated understood the risks they were taking.
The study found that over 50% of students had sent sexts to others while they were still minors, and the average age for a first-time sext was almost, but not quite, 16. About 28% of students with a phone camera admitted to sending photographic sexts, as well. The majority of students overall reported not realizing that sending sexts among minors — especially if the sexts become part of an overall harassment issue — can be prosecuted as child pornography, which can carry very real and life altering consequences. Researchers also asked what age the students thought was an appropriate one to begin texting; some said 14 years old.
“Given the harsh legal penalties sometimes associated with youth sexting and the apparent frequency with which youth are engaging in it, the lack of comprehension regarding such penalties poses a significant problem,” said David Dematteo, one of the study’s authors. The study further indicated that the more students were aware of the potential legal consequences, the less likely they were to engage in sexting as a minor.
How to protect kids online remains an open question for many parents who want to keep their children safe, without overstepping their privacy boundaries. Approximately 93% of teens go online, and 73% have social networking profiles. While it is important to allow teenagers to have their own space and even to make mistakes, parents can and should monitor internet activity when appropriate, and have honest conversations about internet safety tips for kids. “Young people need to be educated about the potential consequences of sexting — legal, social and psychological,” said DeMatteo.
Megan Murphy, another study author, agrees, and says that “teenage sexting is very prevalent and, regardless of whether the behavior is normative or problematic, it is something that parents, schools and legislatures have to address.”
For parents who are concerned about their teenagers’ activities, there are also ways to ensure that phones and other devices are used in a safe matter. Internet content filtering software, for example, can effectively prevent teens from viewing questionable material without making them feel as if their privacy is being ignored or invaded.
Do you have tips on internet safety for parents, or advice on how to monitor internet activity in an unobtrusive way? Let us know in the comments.