Sorry, parents — your teen is probably sexting.
According to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, one out of every four teenagers has received a sext and one out of every seven has sent one.
But, before you panic, hear the scientists out.
“If we look at things like sexual behavior with teens, if it’s consensual and both teens wanted it and are OK with it, you are not going to see the negative psychological health,” study co-author Jeff Temple, a psychiatry professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch, tells CNN. “If it was non-consensual or coerced, that is where you see the negative mental health problems,” he says. For example, when revealing photos fall into the wrong hands.
That happened to Vice reporter Rebecca Baden in 2007, when she was 15 years old. In a recent story for the site, she recounts sending lingerie selfies to her boyfriend, who immediately deleted the photos and suggested she do the same: “If you keep them, they’ll eventually end up everywhere.”
Unfortunately, he was right: A classmate stole her phone, and the pictures spread. Two weeks later, a classmate ran up to her and announced, “The whole school has seen your ass.” The incident turned Baden into a social pariah and left her rattled and self-conscious for years.
“Teens can sometimes assume safety or security is embedded in these apps when it’s not,” study co-author Sheri Madigan, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Calgary, tells CNN. To avoid incidents like Baden’s, she and the other study authors hope that educators will include guidelines on “sexting and its potential consequences” in sex ed classes.
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