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Teen sexting not a reason for parental panic

Teen sexting not a reason for parental panic

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As many as a quarter of teens have received sexually explicit videos, images or messages on their mobile phone, but experts say parents shouldn’t push the panic button just yet.

Exploring sexuality is a normal part of being a teenager, but with each new advance in technology, parents, members of the media and others sound the alarm that children are at risk, according to the writers of a comment entitled “Sexting in youth: cause for concern?” which was published in the journal Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.

According to lead author Dr. Jeff Temple, a professor at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, a more nuanced approach is needed.

“As with many technological advances, the ubiquity of the smartphone in adolescent circles has both good and bad consequences,” Temple writes.

A recently published meta-analysis found that sexting was related to behavioral problems and substance use, especially among younger adolescents. However, whether the sexts where consensual or not can be an important factor.

Separate studies have found that unwanted sexts are associated with mental health issues. Teen sexting within a committed relationship, however, was not associated with substance use, whereas casual sexting was associated with risk-taking behaviors.

What this all means, Temple argues, is that consensual sexting between teens in a committed partnership might be a normal and healthy part of adolescence.

“Our focus shouldn’t be to shame or criminalize teen sexting behavior, but rather to focus on healthy relationship practices, education on digital citizenship and potential online risks,” Temple said.

Other authors include Victor C Strasburger, Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine, University of New Mexico, Harry Zimmerman, private attorney, Sheri Madigan, Department of Psychology, University of Calgary and Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute.

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