Teen sexting is on the rise, but new research found the majority of teens are still abstaining.
An article published late last month in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found one in four teens reported receiving a sexually explicit text, and 1 in 7 admitted to sending one. The results came from an analysis of 39 international studies from 2009 to 2016 and looked at data from more than 110,000 teen participants. The average age of the participants was 15.
The study confirmed sexting is on the rise—teens surveyed later were more likely to report sending and receiving sexual texts. But overall, those who admitted to sexting still made up a minority of all students.
In an article about their research, the study’s authors recommended parents emphasize “digital citizenship” in their conversations with teens and encourage them to be safe, legal, and ethical, but not discourage sexting outright.
“The general consensus is that parents and caregivers should be proactive, rather than protective and reactive, about talking to their teens about sexting,” wrote Sheri Madigan, a professor at the University of Calgary, and Jeff Temple, a professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch. “Preaching abstinence is not effective.”
But critics argue that reaction normalizes a harmful behavior by ignoring the fact that the majority of teens are not sexting.
“Not only does this response seem to disregard research linking teen sexting to other risky sexual behaviors, it also presents sexting as common teenage behavior,” said Alysse ElHage of the Institute for Family Studies. “Given that young people face tremendous peer pressure to sext because ‘everyone is doing it,’ perhaps a better message is that the majority of their peers are not sexting.” —K.C.