Teen Sexting Linked to Psychological Distress


"I'm finding this very much in high schools and it's a very disturbing trend where girls choose a boy who is sexually naïve and she asks for pictures of him," Murray said. "He's sort of flattered and he feels like a big guy and then she sends them around."

The Teens Most Likely to Sext

Schneider found those who identified as gay, lesbian and bisexual, and students who had sexual intercourse were more likely to be involved in sexting than students who were heterosexual or who had never had sex.

In addition, the students who sext tend to use their cell phones more frequently.

That's why Murray recommends that parents monitor their children's cell phone bills to learn more about what's going on in their child's life.

"I believe very, very strongly in parents being parents and not pals," she said. "For some reason parents think they don't have a right to access children's Facebook accounts or their child's cell phones when in fact they own it all."

She recommends that parents establish a family rule that all cell phones are in lockdown in the parents' bedroom when their kids go to sleep.

"The most egregious cell phone behavior happens between midnight and 5 a.m.," she said.

Sexting on the Decline?

Dr. Michael Rich, an associate professor at Harvard and renowned expert on the psychosocial effects of technology, told ABCNews.com the number of teens who sext appears to be dropping, "quite possibly because kids are cluing in more to what the repercussions are."

"In other words, their awareness of the risk is now increased," he said.

According to the latest national survey from the Pew Research Center just 2 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 say they have sent a sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude photo or video of themselves to someone else.

It's entirely possible, Rich said, that the teens who sext today are more aware that they're engaging in a risky behavior than they ever have been in the past, which would make sexting a potential red flag.

"If I, as a pediatrician, saw a kid who was sexting I would be more attuned to are you self harming, are you at risk for suicide," Rich said. But first, "you have to figure out if the kid was conscious if it was a risky behavior or not. It might just be a kid being a stupid kid, who was just playing. If they went into it knowing it put them at risk or put them in a situation where they could harm others then you may want to investigate. At first you just have to get to the bottom of what the intent of it was."

Peer pressure can also play a big role in a teen's decision to sext.

A recent MTV/Associated Press study surveyed 14-24 year olds. Among those polled, nearly half of those who shared naked photos or videos of themselves felt pressure to do so.

My Child is Sexting?! Tips for Parents

When parents discover their child has either sent or received a sext it's easy to lose your cool, said Larry Magid, co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a non-profit dedicated to educating the public about digital citizenship and reputation management.

"We really strongly believe young people need to be respected, not lectured to," Magid said. "Adults have a tendency to overact about a lot of things."

The first step, he said, is to stop, take a deep breath and "really think through what's going on in their child's life."

"Have a rational conversation with your child and explain why it's a bad idea, but try to be as non judgmental as you possibly can," he said.

Those who receive a sext message should never pass it around, he added.

"I personally wouldn't even send a picture like that to my own wife. There's accidental distribution, maybe you leave or phone somewhere and someone picks it up," he said. "If you receive a sext and it's from someone who you are close to, you have to be a friend. Stand up and do the right thing, which is not share it."

Teens need to understand that there is the possibility of prosecution for the possession of child pornography.

"It has happened," he said. "So the first thing you should probably do to protect yourself is delete them."

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