Monday, December 05, 2011

Sexting Among Minors Is Not As Bad As We Thought

So, not as many minors are sexting as was thought (or feared):

One in 10 children ages 10 to 17 has used a cellphone to send or receive sexually suggestive images, but only 1 in 100 has sent images considered graphic enough to violate child pornography laws, a new study found.


An earlier, often-cited study had estimated that as many as one in five teenagers engaged in sexting, but it included 18- and 19-year-olds, most likely increasing the overall prevalence.

In recent years, high-profile cases in which teenagers were arrested for forwarding nude pictures of other minors have attracted nationwide attention. Despite sexting’s reputation as a teenage pastime, surveys now suggest that it is actually more common among young adults than children.

So, we pushed the panic button for nothing? To the extent that people freaked out, yes there was far more smoke than fire since there was a problem with the previous study's sample construction. An 18 year old who texts a nude picture of themselves is not breaking any pornography standards. But including 18-19 year olds in a study about minors sexting was poor.

The study did note:

Over all, the new report found, 149 youths interviewed for the study, or 9.6 percent, said they had sent or received images that included full or partial nudity in the previous year. Just over 2 percent of those who engaged in sexting said they had appeared in the pictures or had taken them themselves, and 7.1 percent said they received sexual images from someone else.


About 31 percent who appeared in or took sexual images said that alcohol or drug use had been a factor. And despite public concerns about lewd photographs of minors that start out as private messages becoming widely distributed, only 3 percent of the minors in the study said they had forwarded sexual photographs that they had received.

The fact that about a third of sexual messages were created or sent when alcohol or drugs were involved suggests that the children who are doing the riskiest messaging are engaging in other risky behaviors as well, said Nancy Baym, a professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas and author of the book “Personal Connections in the Digital Age.”

But Dr. Baym, who was not involved in the study, said it was important that the research documented “that a considerable percentage of texting is not problematic, but an extension of the kinds of flirting and relationship-maintaining behavior that goes on in consensual teen relationships and stays within those relationships.”

The use of alcohol and drugs with their tendency to reduce inhibitions impacting on the sexting is not surprising. But what is surprising is that even among teenagers, the purpose appears to be an extension of behavior that is considered normal, if not healthy, in consensual relationships.

Of course, is it smart for teenagers to send nude photos of themselves or others around? No, clearly not. But then again, we say the same thing about teenagers having sex. We know that teenagers have sex. So we encourage abstinence but prepare for intercourse by teaching safe sex practices. I think we should consider the cyber world equivalent of discouraging sexting, but we should encourage safe practices (what ever they may be). Those "safe" sexting practices should be presented in an atmosphere that does not accuse and/or classify the activity as criminal.

Before some overzealous prosecutor gets a burr under their saddle and starts charging teenagers with possession and desemmination of child pornography, a close examination of who sent what to whom and for what purpose should be considered.

But of course, in the world of the Nanny State, commons sense will always take a back seat to irrational fear mongering.

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