Sexting “Epidemic” Doesn’t Exist, Abstinence-Only Education Doesn’t Work
According to the Huffington Post, a new study from the University of Georgia found that the teen sexting “epidemic” that has had parents, privacy advocates, and even police departments up in arms, is nowhere near as widespread as previously thought.
The recent, more specific survey found that only 1% of children aged 10-17 had shared an explicit nude photo of themselves. Another 1% said they’d shared “suggestive”, but less explicit photos. Earlier studies had stated that 20% of teens had shared “suggestive messages and images.”
The authors faulted these earlier studies for examining text messages without pictures, or pictures that revealed no more than what might be seen “at a beach.” Earlier research also examined older age ranges, including young adults in their early 20s.
As this issue came to national attention, many worried not only about the well-being of the children, but about the legal ramifications of sending and possessing nude pictures of minors. Horror stories and cautionary tales emerged that 13-year-old girls were being charged with felonies for sending nude photos of themselves, and teenage boys were being charged for receiving them. High school principals were nervous to even be in the possession of the photos while investigating an incident or waiting for parents to arrive and deal with the situation.
But the UGA researchers conducted a separate survey of the law enforcement response to sexting, and found that even here concerns were vastly exaggerated. The study shows that police regularly distinguish between cases of simple teenage stupidity, and those that pose real harm; arrests and prosecution are much more likely for any adults involved.
UGA continued to break misconceptions about teens’ sex lives last week: they also released yet another study that suggests abstinence-only sex education does not, in fact, effectively promote abstinence. The study found that states with abstinence-only education have higher rates of teen pregnancy, even when adjusting for factors like “socioeconomic status, education level and ethnicity.”
Still, experts encourage parents to impress upon children the permanence of things posted to the internet, and their need to act responsibly:
Dr. Victor Strasburger, an adolescent medicine expert at the University of New Mexico, said parents, schools and law enforcement authorities “need to understand that teenagers are neurologically programmed to do dumb things.”… Kids need to be told “that when you put things online and even when you send them via cellphone, they’re potentially there forever.”
What do you think? Is teen sexting a real problem, or is it all hype?