Skip to content

    Health & Parenting

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Study: Fears of Teen 'Sexting' May Be Exaggerated

    1% of Teens Appeared in or Created Sexually Explicit Images, Survey Shows
    By
    WebMD Health News
    Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

    Dec. 5, 2011 -- Parents of teens have plenty to keep them up at night, but most don't have to worry that their children are engaging in "sexting," a new study shows.

    Study researchers defined "sexting" as appearing in, creating, or receiving sexual images or videos using a cell phone or the Internet.

    In a national telephone survey, 1% of teens said they had appeared in or created sexually explicit images that could potentially violate child pornography laws such as images of naked breasts, genitals, or buttocks.

    And a survey of police officials found little evidence that many teenagers are being prosecuted under sex offender laws for such behavior unless the teens were breaking other laws as well.

    The survey findings suggest that concerns about teen sexting may be overblown, says Janis Wolak, JD, of the University of New Hampshire Crimes against Children Research Center.

    "I think parents should be reassured by this," she tells WebMD. "We need to give kids credit for generally being responsible about using the Internet and navigating the other technology in their lives."

    Teen Sexting in the News

    Wolak says the media has contributed to the belief that there is an epidemic of teens sending sexually explicit images and texts electronically and that prosecution of the practice is common.

    In a widely reported 2009 study, about one in five teenagers surveyed acknowledged electronically sending or posting online nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves.

    The study's publication led to sensational headlines such as "Sexting Shockingly Common Among Teens."

    But Wolak says the findings were compromised by the fact that the survey was not nationally representative, that it was conducted online, and that it included 18- and 19-year-olds and not just minors.

    The new survey, published in Pediatrics, included 1,560 children and teens between the ages of 10 and 17 who were Internet users.

    Among the findings:

    • 2.5% of the children and teens said they had engaged in such behavior, and 1% involved images that could have been interpreted as violating child pornography laws.
    • When sexting was defined by the lower standard of appearing in, creating, or receiving sexually suggestive rather than explicit images, 9.6% of respondents said they had engaged in such behavior.
    • Only a very small percentage of the images that could be considered child pornography ended up on the Internet.

    Today on WebMD

    Girl holding up card with BMI written
    Is your child at a healthy weight?
    toddler climbing
    What happens in your child’s second year.
     
    father and son with laundry basket
    Get your kids to help around the house.
    boy frowning at brocolli
    Tips for dealing with mealtime mayhem
     
    mother and daughter talking
    Tool
    child brushing his teeth
    Slideshow
     
    Sipping hot tea
    Slideshow
    Young woman holding lip at dentists office
    Video
     
    Which Vaccines Do Adults Need
    Article
    rl with friends
    fitSlideshow
     
    tissue box
    Quiz
    Child with adhd
    Slideshow