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Health & Parenting

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Study: Fears of Teen 'Sexting' May Be Exaggerated

1% of Teens Appeared in or Created Sexually Explicit Images, Survey Shows

Prosecution of Routine Sexting Uncommon

In a second study, the researchers examined teen-related sexting cases that involved the police.

They found little to justify concerns that many young people are being charged with serious sex crimes and placed on sex-offender registries as a result of what they characterized as "impulsive teenage indiscretions."

Of the estimated 3,477 cases of sexting involving minor teens handled by the police in 2008 and 2009, two-thirds involved an aggravating circumstance such as the involvement of an adult, using images to blackmail or harass other teens, or sexual assault.

Most cases that did not involve an aggravated circumstance did not result in arrest.

"Most law enforcement officials are handling these sexting cases in a thoughtful way and not treating teens like sex offenders and child pornographers," Wolak says.

Study co-researcher Kimberly Mitchell, PhD, says fears that the Internet and other technology are contributing to the hyper-sexualization of teens are not borne out by recent statistics.

"Teen pregnancy rates are down sharply and we have also seen declines in the number of youth who say they have multiple sex partners," she says. "If technology influenced behavior as much as the press reports suggest, that would not be the case."

But child psychologist Alec L. Miller, PsyD, says it would be a mistake to fail to recognize the extent of sexting among teens.

Miller is chief of child and adolescent psychology at the Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

"I am certainly hearing about it more and more in my practice and I suspect that it will become even more pervasive," he tells WebMD.

The researchers agree that more young people need to be educated about the potential consequences of possessing or distributing sexually explicit images.

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