Via Mashable, a new study from the Educational Development Center has found that 13% of Boston-area high schoolers have received “sext” messages, 10% have sent them, and 5% have sent sexually explicit pictures of themselves. The study asked over 23,000 students about their phone habits, and also found that teens who had been involved in sexting were more likely to attempt suicide (13% to 3%), as well as to have depressive symptoms (36% to 17%).
Lead researcher Shari Kessel Schneider stressed that sexting is not directly responsible for these risks.
“It’s a cross-sectional study — it shows an association but not a causal relationship. [However,] it’s important to know there’s a link between sexting and psychological distress. It’s something to be considered if you know of a youth who is involved in sexting.”
As children are getting mobile phones at younger and younger ages these days (I think I was 15 when I got my first phone, but some of my younger cousins have had phones since they were about ten), and with the technology within the phones getting more and more advanced, sexting is something that parents need to become more aware of and need to address with their children when they give them mobile phones.
“I encourage parents to treat a kid’s cellphone as a computer: thinking of securing, protecting and limiting it,” said Marian Merritt, Internet safety advocate for Norton, part of Symantec Inc. As soon a child receives his or her first cell phone, “Set family rules. Age 12 is standard.”
“If that phone is a smartphone, password protect it,” she said. “It could prevent your child getting victimized” by someone else who picks it up and uses it. And to monitor your son’s or daughter’s use: “Check your online statement, to see if your child is sending a lot of photo messages.”
Talk to your children, she said. “Don’t wait until they’re 16, that’s exactly the wrong way to do stuff. Start much earlier. Especially with boys, know how incredibly common it will be for them to receive a [sext] message. Ask them, ‘What would you do?’ What’s the right thing to do to protect the girl? Delete it?’ Try to make sure he shows empathy for the girl.”
The study drew from high schoolers in Boston’s western suburbs, an area composed of mostly middle and upper class families, 74% of whom are white. It also found that students who had identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or not sure were more likely to have engaged in sexting. Both Merritt and Kessel Schneider hope to see additional research on sexting trends in order to gain a better understanding of the connection between sexting and mental health.
Secure messaging with Gryphn’s app:
“Go from unsure to secure in 60 seconds or less — with the ‘year’s most innovative startup for national security‘