In September, a study from the University of Melbourne in Australia found that peer pressure was driving kids to “sexting,” which is when teens send sexually-charged messages and images to one another over cell phones. The preliminary findings of this research suggest that the media may have been encouraging this behavior through all of the sexualized images that are shown in movies, television and advertising. Now, a new study conducted by the University of New Hampshire Crimes against Children Research Center found that concerns about this trend may be overblown, and that there might not be as many teens engaging in this activity as previously thought.
The researchers found that of the more than 1,500 internet users between the ages of 10 and 17 surveyed, only 2.5 percent had sexted in the past year, and only 1 percent of these messages had involved images that could potentially violate child pornography laws. “Lots of people may be hearing about these cases discovered by schools and parents because they create a furor, but it still involves a very small minority of youth,” said lead author Kimberly Mitchell, research assistant professor of psychology at the UNH Crimes against Children Research Center.
One of the main concerns of parents is that these images may be getting widely distributed on the internet, but 90 percent of teens surveyed said any sexual messages or images they received were never shown to anyone else. Researchers spoke to police who confirmed that out of the images that had been brought to their attention, two-thirds stayed on one individual’s cell phone and were never circulated online. More research needs to be conducted to determine if this trend leads to an increase in promiscuous sex and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases among teens.