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Teen behavior involving sexting varies widely.


Sexting among children and adolescents appears to be far more variable and less explicit than previously thought, based on the results of a study Sexting is defined broadly as the transmission via cell phone, the Internet, and other electronic media of sexual images.

In a survey, 149 of 1,560 young people (9.6%) reported appearing in, creating, or receiving nude or nearly nude images in the previous year.

"This study reveals that estimates of youth involved in sexting vary considerably depending on what activities are included in the concept of sexting. The percentage of youth who have, in the past year, appeared in or created sexually explicit sexual images that potentially violate child pornography laws is low (1%). But if sexting is defined as appearing in, creating, or receiving sexually suggestive rather than explicit images, the survey reveals 9.6% of youth who used the Internet in the past year [were] involved in this way," Kimberly J. Mitchell, Ph.D., and her coinvestigators wrote (Pediatrics 2011 Dec. 5 [doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-1730]).

Dr. Mitchell and her associates used data from the third Youth Internet Safety Survey (YISS-3) on sexting, among other technology-based problems. Data collection occurred between August 2010 and January 2011. YISS-3 was conducted via telephone surveys with a national sample of youth Internet users aged 10-17 years.

The main sample was drawn from a national sample of households with telephones developed by random digit dialing. At the end of data collection, 45 interviews had been completed by cell phone plus 1,515 landline interviews, resulting in a total sample of 1,560. Eligible respondents were children and adolescents who had used the Internet at least once a month for the previous 6 months.

Interviewers first asked to speak with the adult who was most familiar with that child's Internet use, and after receiving informed consent, interviewers asked a series of questions about Internet use. Then the interviewer requested permission to interview the child or teen. Interviewers told parents that the youth interview would be confidential and would include questions about "sexual material your child may have seen on the Internet."

Adolescents were asked five screener questions about three types of sexting involvement: receiving "nude or nearly nude" images; forwarding or posting such images; and appearing in or creating such images. Follow-up questions gathered details, including the content of the nude or nearly nude images. The screeners asked:

* Has anyone ever sent you nude or nearly nude pictures or videos of kids who were under the age of 18 years that someone else took?

* Have you ever forwarded or posted any nude or nearly nude pictures or videos of other kids who were under the age of 18 that someone else took?

* Have you ever taken nude or nearly nude pictures or videos of yourself?

* Has someone else ever taken nude or nearly nude pictures or videos of you?

* Have you ever taken nude or nearly nude pictures or videos of other kids who were under the age of 18?

When a young person responded positively to one of these questions, the interviewers asked if the incident occurred in the past year. Interviewers then asked extensive follow-up questions about up to two unique sexting episodes in the past year.

Of those individuals who reported involvement in sexting, 39 (2.5%) appeared in or created images and 110 participants (7.1%) received images but did not appear in or create them. Of the 39 young people who appeared in or created images, 61% were girls, 72% were 16 or 17 years of age, and 6% were 10-12 years of age. Most adolescents created images of themselves (1.8% of total sample). Some were photographed by someone else (0.3%); and some photographed other young people (0.4%). Of the 110 young people who received images but did not appear in or create them, 56% were girls, 55% were aged 16 or 17 years, and none were younger than 12 years.

One of the goals of this study was to determine how adolescents define "nude" or "nearly nude." Participants were asked whether the images "showed breasts, genitals, or someone's bottom." Only 21 (54%) of the young people who appeared in or created images reported pictures that met these criteria; the same was true for 84% of the 110 youth who received images.

In most of the episodes, the person responsible--when it was not the respondent--was someone the young person knew. Adults were involved in a minority of the incidents, and they were all young adults aged 18-21 years. An aggravating component, such as alcohol or drug use, was involved in 31% of incidents. 'The most commonly reported reason for incidents was "romance as part of an existing relationship'; pranks and jokes; or trying to start a relationship," wrote Dr. Mitchell and her associates at Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.

Twenty-one percent of the respondents who appeared in or created images said they were very or extremely upset, embarrassed, or afraid, as did 25% who received sexting images.

"Our findings also raise the question of how sexting should be defined," the researchers noted. "Clearly, for many youth nude or nearly nude encompasses pictures that do not show naked breasts or genitals. Researchers and clinicians need to directly ask about the content of images."

Furthermore, "sexting may not indicate a dramatic change in youth risk taking or youth sexual behavior. It may just make some of that behavior more visible to adults and other authorities," they said.

Twenty-eight percent of youth who appeared in or created sexting images and 28% who received images "either reported incidents to an authority (such as a parent, teacher, or police) or an authority found out in some other way," they said.

The authors said they had no relevant disclosures. The study was supported by a grant awarded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.
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Author:Wachter, Kerri
Publication:Pediatric News
Date:Dec 1, 2011
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