Have you had the 'sext' talk with your kids?
June 30th, 2014
01:33 PM ET

Have you had the 'sext' talk with your kids?

It’s called sexting, the act of sending and/or receiving sexually explicit text or photo messages via your mobile phone. And one in five middle school-aged students are doing it, according to a new study published in the medical journal Pediatrics.

Among the 1,285 Los Angeles students aged 10 to 15 surveyed for the study, 20% reported having received at least one sext, while 5% reported having sent at least one sext.

“Very frequently it’s the image or the sex, that is finding its way to the middle schooler first, prior to any sort of conversation or education" by parents, said Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor and father to two boys. "That makes it even more confusing (for kids).”

The study authors also looked at how sexting relates to sexual behavior among these adolescents. The survey showed that those who reported receiving a sext, were six times more likely to report being sexually active than teens who hadn't received a sext. Those who sent a sext were about 4 times more likely to report being sexually active.

The researchers also found that those who sext were more likely to report having unprotected sex.

While the study does not offer an explanation for the link - Are sexting teens simply more likely to admit to their sexual activity? Does sexual activity lead to sexting or vice versa? - the authors do elaborate on the relationship between sexting and sexual behaviors.

Kerner, who was not involved in the research, suggests parents try to remember the confusion over sex they experienced as teens, and then imagine going through it again in the digital age.

“I think that technology definitely acts as an amplifier. If you think about previous generations, it was much harder to access, much less share, sexual imagery,” Kerner said.

Previous research has shown that having sex earlier in life can lead to risky sexual behaviors, such as engaging with multiple partners, teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

A policy statement recently released by the American Academy of Pediatrics says that the prevalence rates of many sexually transmitted infections are highest among adolescents. The second-highest rates for chlamydia and gonorrhea, for example, are in females 15 to 19 years old.

The study authors say parents should have the "sexting" conversation with their child as soon as he or she is given a mobile phone.

"Most kids by middle school will have a cell phone or regular access to one, and many will send multiple, if not hundreds, of texts each day," said Dr. Yolanda Evans, a board certified pediatrician in the division of adolescent medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Kerner says parents play a big role in how kids deal with sex - as middle schoolers and as adults.

“I feel like the information age, the digital age, pornography – it’s all here to stay... And I don’t think the right attitude is to just pretend it’s not there," he said. "The thing that we need to do as parents and educators is help our kids develop healthy sexual identities and patterns and choices.”

soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Ana Furtado

    Interesting...I think it is important that parents talk to their kids about sex, but not always they are prepared to do so. We must educate ourselves in order to face this HUGE responsabilities upon our kids happiness as adults!

    June 30, 2014 at 17:53 | Report abuse | Reply
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  2. Leigh

    I have 2 girls (12 & 17). Both have cell phones but neither have cell phones that text. I'm not entirely sure why parents feel the need to give their children phones that text. If they need to talk to someone, they pick the phone up and speak to them.

    July 1, 2014 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. JamesT

    If you are providing your child a cell phone you should make it clear that they have ZERO privacy when it comes to that and any other device or social networking app they use while you are responsible for them. You should be checking it randomly for any inappropriate texts, photos, posts, etc..

    July 1, 2014 at 18:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kids deserve privacy

      All of you "my kids won't have any privacy" parents are nuts!

      My mother also nosed around in my private journal when I was 12. She made me feel like I couldn't even have a private outlet of self-expression. She needed to know everything I was thinking and feeling. Her constant surveillance made adolescence a nightmare for me. By high school I stopped making facial expressions at home. I did not ever, EVER talk about my day, good or bad. I never brought friends over or indicated that I might even have any. They were all saved in my phone by last name to protect their gender. She still found ways to dig into my personal life, but the harder she pulled, the further I pushed.

      I am now 27. She doesn't understand why we don't have a closer relationship, and I don't care enough to explain why not. I'm always "unfortunately working late, can't make it."

      There's more than the phone and room inspections, of course, but I won't get into those stories here. Don't suffocate your kids. If you tell them they'll have privacy once she's old enough to leave the nest, they'll book the earliest one-way flight out. Soon they'll always be "much too busy, ma" too.

      July 2, 2014 at 10:53 | Report abuse |
  4. odalice feliz

    Some kids don't deserve to have cell phone or internet access..... it all depends on the level of maturity.

    July 1, 2014 at 18:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. portlandtony

    Let's face it, sex is here to stay, Those who are new to the exploratory phase (middle schoolers) are just mirroring what TV, Internet, movies, and real life is showing them. Most of us have played around the edges of sexual behavior during our formative years. Cell phones just make it easier.
    You are never going to kill the sexual drive in teens.......You as a loving and understanding parent should impress upon your sons and daughters, the responsibilities that go with sexual behavior.....AND THE FACT THAT NOTHING YOU PUT ON THE INTERNET CAN BE ERASED.........Even though you delete it or it's guaranteed to self delete, or it's encrypted it doesn't disappear. Even if you can't see it.....Somewhere it lives forever and anyone with a little knowledge of computing can find it and laugh at your text and admire your nubile body in 10 or 25 years.

    July 7, 2014 at 13:25 | Report abuse | Reply
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    More like the sex talk and the digital sex talk ! I mean it's tough I have a daughter and I'm dreading this conversation . Men are pigs I know because I one of them and no matter how much advice you give to a girl they're going to learn by failing.

    June 7, 2017 at 17:47 | Report abuse | Reply
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