February 24, 2014 —

Every month, we’re keeping you informed on the latest studies and research in our “Not My Teen” blog series. Today, we’re looking at how sexting among middle schoolers may be more common than people think.

Parents of high school students are not the only ones who should monitor their teens’ mobile device use. A new study published in Pediatrics suggests that parents of middle school students should also be aware of what their teens are doing on cell phones. After surveying 420 “at-risk” teens (teens with behavior and emotional difficulties) between the ages of 12 and 14, researchers concluded that it is “not uncommon” for teens in middle school to send sexually suggestive texts or photos, a practice known as “sexting.”

The study is the first to examine the prevalence of sexting among at-risk seventh grade students and its potential associations with a range of sexual behaviors. The study also examined differences in sexual risk between sending sexual messages and sexual photos. Of the 22 percent of participants who reported sexting in the past six months, 17 percent reported sending suggestive texts while 5 percent reported sending both texts and pictures. The participants’ responses suggested that teens who sext are more likely to engage in other sexual behaviors, such as oral sex, sexual intercourse and having “friends with benefits.” Researchers concluded that teens who send sexual photos, and not just suggestive texts, are even more likely to engage in these sexual behaviors.

Results also revealed that participants who reported sexting also reported lower emotional awareness and emotional self-esteem. Researchers believe the higher prevalence of sexting among at-risk teenagers suggests that emotional symptoms could increase the likelihood that teenagers will engage in sexting and, therefore, physical sexual behavior.

Overall, the results of the study reveal that sexting is becoming more common among younger teens and could be caused by emotional issues. As parents, it is important that we keep tabs on our teens.

Here’s how:

  • First, parents should be in tune with their teens’ emotional state.
  • Second, parents should discuss sexting with their teens and establish rules for cell phone use.
  • Third, parents should always monitor their teens’ cell phone activity. It may feel like snooping, but it is important to understand what teens are up to, in order to prevent them from engaging in risky behaviors.

Learn more about the study and its findings here.