A 2019 study found that children are “sexting” at earlier ages — and it comes with risks parents need to know about.
The study, conducted by parenting app Jiminy, evaluated data over nine months from 1.5 million hours of phone usage, Yahoo Finance reports. It found that nearly 40% of young people have either sent or received a “sext” by age 13, and that more than 1 in 10 kids with smartphones were exposed to sexting as early as age 8, the article notes.
“Sexting is quickly becoming a normative form of sexual exploration among preteens and teens,” the study authors explained. “As such, parents should expect the real possibility that their children may be approached by others, known or unknown, or approach others in a sexually explicit manner.”
While over 15% of 8-year-old girls were exposed to sexting, fewer 8-year-old boys – 5.9% – had been exposed, the study found. About 60% of the sexting was “mutual,” the study authors noted.
What parents should know
Metro Parent reported in 2015 that sexting may be seen as the “new first base” among adolescents. In addition to understanding how early sexting can begin, parents need to be aware of the risks their children may face.
Young people can be exposed to unique and serious risks from sexting, Yahoo reports, including being approached by strangers and the risks associated with sending or receiving explicit photos. To combat the risks, parents should have conversations with their children about sexting, KidsHealth.org recommends.
“Talk to your kids about how pictures, videos, emails, and texts that seem temporary can exist forever in cyberspace. One racy picture sent to a crush’s phone easily can be forwarded to friends, posted online, or printed and distributed,” KidsHealth notes.
How to talk to your children
When you’re ready to talk to your child about sexting and the risks involved, consider these tips.
- The “sext” talk should involve four parts: peer pressure, self-esteem, sex education and cyber safety, a local expert told Metro Parent in 2018.
- The discussion should also include consent, experts say. Make sure your child knows that they are entitled to say “no” to sending a photo or engaging in sexting. Also discuss what to do if your child receives an unwanted text.
- Social media safety is key. Talk to your child about who they follow and who is allowed to follow them on social media – a decision that should be made carefully, Common Sense Education notes in its Talking About Sexting handbook. Find more information and resources at the guide here.
This post was originally published in 2020 and is updated regularly.