Much to the chagrin of most parents, sexting and pornography use are very common amongst teens.
The University of Georgia (UGA) released the results of its study, which surveyed 350 teens. Among 12-17-year-olds, about 15% have sent a sext to someone, and about 1 in 4 have been asked to send a sext. Almost 1 in 4 said they have received a sext.
Sexting is when a person sends a sexually explicit message or image to another person via text or social media. More than 12% said they felt pressured by someone to send a sext in the past year.
This is concerning in light of the unintended consequences of sexting such as having the picture forwarded to others, put online or used as a form of blackmail (known as sextortion), says Amanda Giordano, lead author of the study and an associate professor in the UGA Mary Frances Early College of Education.
“Adults need to keep up with technology and current trends so that we’re not just giving youth access to smartphones and hoping they make wise decisions. We need to prepare them for potential risks,” she says, also noting that kids need to learn that sexting is not a requirement for romantic relationships.
In addition, of the 350 adolescents sampled for the study, more than half said they had been exposed to pornography. Over 1 in 3 said they had viewed porn at least once in the previous year, and a shocking 8% of the students said they watched pornography about every day.
The study also found that the average age of being exposed to pornography for the first time is 11.5, which is roughly sixth grade. That’s a bit younger than previous studies have suggested, probably because of smartphone access and the ease of finding free internet porn, says Giordano.
The researchers also found that porn use is significantly more common among male students.
“Pornography use has been linked to a range of negative outcomes among children and adolescents,” says Giordano. “And pornography is a terrible sex education teacher for kids. However, for children who haven’t had conversations about healthy sexuality, they might not have anything to compare it to. What we see from the research is that adolescents are developing their sexual scripts and beliefs about sex from what they’re seeing in pornography, which can have varying degrees of violence, aggression and degradation of women.”
School counselors can address pornography use and sexting behaviors through direct student services, school-wide policies and preventive programming. There should also be a sexting education program for the entire school staff, so they are aware of the risks and outcomes of the teens’ behaviors, Giordano suggests.
Providing accurate information to students about porn and the risks of sexting is key as well, Giordano says. For example, explaining that pornography uses actors and often isn’t an accurate depiction of healthy, consensual, safe sexual practices is important. Also, the risks of sexting should be discussed with students, she says.
“We’re teaching students to be good citizens, and that should include promoting responsible, healthy tech use, known as digital citizenship,” she says. “Technology isn’t going anywhere, so we need to set students up for success by teaching them how to be good global, local and digital citizens.”
Co-authors on the study, published in Professional School Counseling, include associate professor Michael Schmit from the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies, graduate students Kervins Clement from the University of North Carolina and Ellie Potts and Adrienne Graham from UGA’s Department of Counseling and Human Development Services.