This article first appeared in Technorati
A parent recently told me that she knew her kids had secrets. She knew they never told her the complete truth because they didn't want to disappoint her and besides, she would "hit the ceiling."
Most likely this is the case for the parents of the 13 percent of Boston area high school students who say they've received "sext" messages. Do these parents know or even suspect that "one in 10 has either forwarded, sent or posted sexually suggestive, explicit or nude photos or videos of people they know by cellphone or online?"
In a study of 23,000 students from 24 of 26 high schools in the greater Boston area, teens involved with sexting were found more likely to have reported being psychologically distressed, depressed and/or even suicidal. But then sexting can include overtones of bullying and coercion. The teens were surveyed in 2010 and the findings were presented Wednesday, November 2nd at the American Public Health Association's annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
There seems to be a link between sexting and depression or increased suicide risk, but there isn't enough evidence for a causal relationship and indeed, the opposite may be the case, that teens who are depressed are more likely to sext.
According to lead researcher Shari Kessel Schneider who explained about the results, "It's important to know there's a link between sexting and psychological distress. It's something to be considered if you know of a youth who is involved in sexting." (Teacher World)
Researchers noted the following. Ten % of boys and 11% of girls had sent a sexually related image in the past year, while 6% of males and 4% of females had had such an image sent of themselves.
Additionally, the likelihood of sexting increased amongst teens who described themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual other or not sure. (Esposito, Detroit Free Press)
Other studies have been undertaken about sexting, raising the question for parents, "How can I prevent my child from engaging in such behaviors as posting or posing for nude photos?"
One can't be with their kids 24/7, but there are some things a parent can do.
Parents can "treat a kid's cellphone as a computer: thinking of securing, protecting and limiting it," said Marian Merritt, Internet safety advocate for Norton, part of Symantec Inc. As soon as a child receives his or her first cell phone, "Set family rules. Age 12 is standard." (Ashley Jennings, Channel 9 News, WUSA Today)
"If that phone is a smartphone, password protect it," she said. "It could prevent your child getting victimized" by someone else who picks it up and uses it. And to monitor your son's or daughter's use: "Check your online statement, to see if your child is sending a lot of photo messages." (Ashley Jennings, Channel 9 News, WUSA Today)
Parents cannot give up control and must assert their authority over their children's media by setting standards. For example, they might set time limits for the internet. Parents can also control access and privacy with such limits on the router. Another way is to "Charge the phone in the kitchen, some central location, so it's not on their pillow, buzzing late at night with text messages," said Marian Merritt. (Ashley Jennings, Channel 9 News, WUSA Today)
Justin Patchin, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, said his first advice to teens who receive a sext message is this: "You should delete it and not tell anybody. If it's doesn't get disseminated and distributed, it's ended." (Esposito, Detroit Free Press) But parents tend to overreact and want to take an extreme action, and Patchin counseled teens who seem to know the difference, not to involve parents, unless the situation was very serious. (Jennings, WUSA Today, Channel 9 News)
Kessel Schneider and her group plan to do further studies on such issues, but for now, she thinks that the findings, though in the preliminary stages, will "draw attention to the link between sexting and mental health, which should be addressed by anti-bullying and health-promotion initiatives." (Teacher World)