Is 'Sexting' a Teen Trend?
A look at the first study about the nude photo-sharing that has been reported in more than a dozen states - and some thoughts on the why of this and other types of teen self-exposure online.
Just how pervasive is 'sexting,' the nude-photo-sharing by cellphone that seems to be happening a lot? I've seen reports of the practice in more than a dozen US states, New Hampshire the latest one. A new study tried to get a handle on just how much this is happening, if not why. The survey, commissioned by the nonprofit National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl.com, found that "about a third of young adults 20-26 and 20% of teens say they've sent or posted naked or semi-naked photos or videos of themselves, mostly to be 'fun or flirtatious'," USATODAY reports, adding that "a third of teen boys and 40% of young men say they've seen nude or semi-nude images sent to someone else; about a quarter of teen girls and young adult women have. And 39% of teens and 59% of those ages 20-26 say they've sent suggestive text messages." All this in spite of the fact that nearly three-quarters of these young people (73%) "said they knew sending sexually suggestive content 'can have serious negative consequences'."
As for the why question, that 73% finding didn't surprise me - I suspect most teens know full well this is risky behavior. But since when did awareness of risk stop risky behavior among teens or in any way reduce the cachet it often has for them? Then there's the brain-development factor, explaining why risk assessment is a primary task of adolescence. Neurologists tell us the frontal cortex, the impulse-control, executive part of the brain, is in development till everybody's early-to-mid-20s. Generally speaking, their brains just aren't there yet, where fully understanding the implications of their actions is concerned (why caring adults need to be a part of the online, tech-enabled part of their lives).
There are also the realities of technology and sexual content. In her coverage of the survey, Jacqui Cheng of ArsTechnica suggests this is the next phase of the long-standing phenomenon of inappropriate content in email - "since the age of 12, my inbox has been filled with inappropriate photos of people, whether I wanted to see them or not," she writes. That sounds a little extreme to me, but sex-related spam has been around almost as long as email and does seem to be at least part of the wallpaper of online life. In the journal Pediatrics, researchers at the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center wrote in 2005 that "exposure to online porn might have reached the point where it can be characterized as normative among youth Internet users, especially teenage boys. Medical practitioners, educators, other youth workers, and parents should assume that most boys of high school age that use the Internet have some degree of exposure to online pornography, as do girls."
Back to teen-produced content, NBC's Today Show covered the sexting survey in light of a story concerning video-sharing on the Web even though nudity was not involved....
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