Family

The surprising truth about sexting

It's hard work to get teens away from their mobile phones, but should parents be concerned about the sexual nature of what they are sharing?
A new study suggests that parents don't have as much to worry about as first thought LiveScience reported.
Study researcher Janis Wolak, of the University of New Hampshire, has performed a study on the nature of sexting, which involves sending sexually explicit messages or photographs.
The study aimed to help parents understand how the sexually explicit content may impact children, and explore the possible legal impacts of children producing what could be defined as child pornography.
"We really wanted to focus on the area of most concern, how often are kids creating images that could be child pornography, and what are kids doing when they received them," Wolak said.
"Most kids are extremely responsible in their use of the Internet and cellphones … we aren't surprised to see that it's a very small group — 1 percent of kids — that are doing this."
The number of teens sexting in this study were much lower than other studies, mainly due to the age of children involved. Wolak and her colleagues, who work at the Crimes Against Children Research Center, focused on sexual image sending in children ages 10 to 18 in the US.
Throughout their study they interviewed children themselves and interviewed police officers who had been involved in cases involving youth "sexting" photos.
The 1560 child participants who took part in the study were asked about their experiences taking, sending or receiving "nude or nearly nude" images. If they answered yes, they were asked more specific questions about the image.
From the responses the researchers found that about 1 percent of children in their study appeared in or created sexually explicit images.
In most cases, the teens said that they had received texts from others with almost 6 percent having had received a sexually explicit image, and 7.1 percent having had received a nude or nearly nude image.
In total, 9.6 percent of the youth surveyed had appeared in, created or received nude or nearly nude images in the last year. The study found that the rates rise sharply as the youth enter later ages.
"Most kids had neither taken pictures of themselves or received those sorts of pictures," Wolak said.
She also noted that the images which were sent out by teens usually to a person were not shared to others.
The researchers then focused on criminal sexting, finding that there had a total of 1447 cases, between 2008 and 2009.
Of the cases around a third involved adults receiving youth-created images, another third were strictly between youths but contained malicious actions, and the rest of the cases were youth-only "experimental" images.
"In a lot of cases where kids were arrested, the cases were handled in juvenile court and the sentences involved things like community service," Wolak said.
"Police seemed quite reluctant in most cases to treat kids like serious sex offenders."
Both studies were published in the December issue of the journal Pediatrics, and were performed by Wolak and her colleagues at the University of New Hampshire.

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