WEDNESDAY, Nov. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Some Boston parents might
be in for a rude awakening: 13 percent of area high school students
say they've received "sext" messages and one in 10 has either
forwarded, sent or posted sexually suggestive, explicit or nude
photos or videos of people they know by cellphone or online.
So found a study of more than 23,000 students, with the results
scheduled to be presented Wednesday at the American Public Health
Association's annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
Sexting can include overtones of bullying and coercion, and
teens who are involved were more likely to report being
psychologically distressed, depressed or even suicidal, according
to the 2010 survey of 24 (of 26) high schools in Boston's
Twice as many respondents who said they had sexted in the past
year reported depressive symptoms, compared to teens who did not.
Moreover, 13 percent of teen involved in sexting reported a suicide
attempt during that period compared with 3 percent of non-sexting
teens, according to the researchers at the Education Development
Center in Newton, Mass.
That doesn't mean that sexting leads to depression or increases
suicide risk. "It's a cross-sectional study -- it shows an
association but not a causal relationship," explained lead
researcher Shari Kessel Schneider.
However, she added, "It's important to know there's a link
between sexting and psychological distress. It's something to be
considered if you know of a youth who is involved in sexting."
Of the high-school students, 10 percent of boys and 11 percent
of girls said they had sent one of these images in the past year,
while 6 percent of males and 4 percent of females had had such an
image sent of themselves.
The researchers also found that youths who did not self-identify
as heterosexual -- that is, they described themselves as gay,
lesbian, bisexual other or not sure -- were more likely to be
involved in sexting.
Other studies have examined sexting on a national basis,
prompting parents to question how they can prevent their own
children from posting -- or posing for -- these images.
"I encourage parents to treat a kid's cellphone as a computer: thinking of securing, protecting and limiting it," said Marian Merritt, Internet safety advocate for Norton, part of Symantec Inc. As soon a child receives his or her first cell phone, "Set family rules. Age 12 is standard."
"If that phone is a smartphone, password protect it," she said. "It could prevent your child getting victimized" by someone else who picks it up and uses it. And to monitor your son's or daughter's use: "Check your online statement, to see if your child is sending a lot of photo messages."
Parents need to take back control of the technology, she said,
whether it's by setting online time limits on the home wireless
router or limiting access and privacy: "Charge the phone in the
kitchen, some central location, so it's not on their pillow,
buzzing late at night with text messages."
Talk to your children, she said. "Don't wait until they're 16,
that's exactly the wrong way to do stuff. Start much earlier.
Especially with boys, know how incredibly common it will be for
them to receive a [sext] message. Ask them, 'What would you do?'
What's the right thing to do to protect the girl? Delete it?' Try
to make sure he shows empathy for the girl."
Some adolescents will be more affected than others, Merritt
said. "In general, with all the things on the Internet, it's very
hard to predict who will be impacted. Some kids are able to roll
with it and there are others who can't."
Justin Patchin, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research
Center, said his first advice to teens who receive a sext message
is this: "You should delete it and not tell anybody. If it's
doesn't get disseminated and distributed, it's ended."
He said he's received flak for suggesting on the center's
website that kids don't always need to go to adults when sexting
involves a friend (or girlfriend or boyfriend), but he still
believes, "If you tell adults, you're throwing that person under a
bus." Once people in authority, such as teachers and principals,
are made aware of sexting, legal reporting requirements come into
"Adults, it seems, are forced to respond to sexting in extreme ways -- ways that have long-term, irreversible consequences," he posted in February. "Until we can develop reasonable responses that do not potentially foreclose on the futures of all involved, we are wise to advise that students do not contact adults, unless the situation is appearing to get out of control. And I think teens know when it is out of control."
Patchin doesn't discount that sexting can have serious
ramifications. "You can look at high-profile examples, of people
with severe psychological problems," he said, referring to two
publicized cases of young girls committing suicide where sexting
was a factor.
In his center's dealings with sexting, he said, "We've talked
with frustrated, embarrassed, upset kids."
Merritt cautioned against overreacting about the findings and
said she would like to see more data, for instance, on how sexting
relates to teens' gender orientation.
Kessler Schneider's group does intend to do more studies in that
area. For now, she said, the Boston findings should "draw attention
to the link between sexting and mental health, which should be
addressed by anti-bullying and health-promotion initiatives."
Because the new study was presented at a medical meeting, the
data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until
published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The Pew Research Center has more about
teens and sexting.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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