I apologize for the rather long gaps between posts of late, but I’ve been finishing up teaching a new course, so I haven’t had much time to write. I will resume weekly posts next week, but in the meantime, I thought I would briefly comment on a relevant news story I saw earlier this week.
The article described a new study, that found that “sexting” (sending sexually-explicit photos of one’s self via photo messaging) amongst teens is probably much less prevalent than earlier reports would have led us to believe. This new study found that only 1% of teens reported that they had sent such an image, down from the almost 20% claimed in earlier reports.
Interestingly, this fall in the reported rate was probably not due to any actual change in teen behavior, but was instead due to a more specific definition of sexting used by the researchers. Previous studies had either simply used the neologism itself, or vaguely defined it as sending “nude or semi-nude photos.” The researchers from the new study were more explicit, asking whether teens had photographed particular parts of their bodies. The new study concluded that teens tend to have a much broader, and perhaps more innocent, definition of sexting than adults do (e.g., sending photos of themselves in skimpy bathing suits or underwear). This broader definition tended to inflate the results found in previous studies.
I found this article particularly interesting because it highlights the ways in which teens and adults think differently about these topics. We need to make sure that when we discuss a topic like sexting that we dig into how teens actually define that word for themselves, and avoid projecting an adult sensibility onto the situation.
To be clear, I’m not saying that parents don’t need to be concerned about this at all, but perhaps a calm, frank conversation with our children about what is appropriate and not appropriate to send or post online would be more effective than a more panicked response.
Updated: Rosie’s comment below reminded me of this PSA that I saw once that might be helpful when broaching the subject with your kids: