The phenomenon of teenagers who use cell phones or computers to take sexual photographs known to each other "Sexting", is not as widespread as it once was, a new study suggests.
University of New Hampshire researchers conducted a telephone survey asking 1,560 Internet users between the ages of 10 and 17 whether they had taken, sent, or received sexual photos in the past year.
Only about 1 percent of children were sexually explicit photos.
"It is a little comforting,", said study author Kimberly Mitchell, associate professor of psychology at the University of New Hampshire. ". The media has presented it as a major problem."
But chances are your kids aren’t sexting, Mitchell said.
Researchers asked questions like "have you ever got nude or almost nude pictures or videos of yourself?" and "Has anyone ever sent you nude or nearly nude pictures or videos of children under the age of 18 that someone else has?"
A similar study showed that law enforcement agencies respond to approximately 1,750 sextings each year in the United States.
Both studies were published in Pediatrics (Dec. (5) today).
Definition of sexting
Children’s responses during the interview depended on how the researchers defined sexting. When researchers asked if children had created or naked pictures or videos appeared, 2.5 percent say yes. However, only 1 percent of the children said the photos were sexually explicit, with bare breasts, genitals, or bottoms.
More than 7 percent of the children said they had received photos of others nude or almost nude, while almost 6 percent said they had received sexually explicit photos.
Children’s responses include: "this boy had four Pictures of naked girls – he showed everyone in the class" and "I was just a boy and he wanted a picture and I just sent him my picture."
Other studies unmasked
Exposing the results of other, less rigorous teenage studies and sexting, the researchers said. For example, one study used an internet panel and included 18 and 19 year olds. Some studies do not distinguish almost nude photos from sexually explicit photos.
"Often [photos] are not sexually explicit," Mitchell said. "We find across the board that children are smart about using technology."
If sexting has been considered seriously enough for legal action, two-thirds of the cases involved an aggravating circumstance such as adult, or nonconsensual or malicious behavior, according to the law enforcement agency study.
Researchers mailed surveys to find a sample of 2,712 law enforcement agencies and 3,477 sexting cases in 2007 and 2008.
About 36 Percent of Cases involved adults and 19 percent involved criminal behavior beyond the sexual image.
About a third of the cases were considered "experimental", which means that the affected children were in a romantic relationship or involved attention-seeking behavior.
Police arrests were made in 62 percent of cases in which an adult was involved, 36 percent of cases in which a youth aggravated behavior, and 18 percent of the experimental cases.
The study current understanding of sexting advances by delving further into the details than any other research so far, said Amanda Lenhart, a scientific specialist with the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C..
"The researchers have been able to answer very specific questions on a narrow definition of sexting. as well as a more detailed understanding of how the images were created, shared and preserved," Lenhart said. "their research results also closely match my latest work on the subject, where we found that 2 percent of teenagers 12 to 17 say they have sent a sexually suggestive nude or almost nude picture of themselves to someone, and 16 percent of all teenagers say that they received it."
Mitchell conceded that her study only included children who use the Internet, while saying nothing about the small percentage (about 5 percent) of children who are not. "In order to use sexting you need to not be an internet user," she said. "I think we miss a lot of kids, but we couldn’t be missing some."
Pass it on: Despite widespread concern about sexting, few children actually engage in sending or receiving sexually explicit photos.
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