A new study from the University of Calgary has found that sexting teens are more likely to have risky sex, to engage in delinquent behaviour and to have mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. The study’s authors say that education is the key to safety and encourage parents to talk openly with their teenagers about sex and responsibility in the digital age.
One in four teens is receiving sexts, digital messages of a sexual nature, according to the research, while one in seven are sending the messages and one in eight are forwarding them to others without consent.
Those numbers are enough to raise concerns about sexting, said Sheri Madigan, associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Calgary and co-author of the study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics.
“A lot of youth report that their online and offline lives are completely intertwined so it’s not surprising that their sexual interests are now transpiring over the phone,” said Madigan, in a press release.
Researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 23 studies comprising over 41,000 participants and found that adolescent sexting is significantly associated with a range of behaviours. The authors found that sexting teens are five times more likely to have had multiple sexual partners and half as likely to use contraception, that sexting teens were two and a half times more likely to have engaged in so-called delinquent behaviours such as stealing and property damage and were almost four times more likely to have drunk alcohol and three times more likely to have used drugs such as marijuana and smoked cigarettes.
On the mental health side, the study concluded that youth who sexted were about twice as likely to have experienced symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Madigan says sex and sexting too often go undiscussed between parents and their children, pointing to one study which found that 71 per cent of mothers had not talked to their adolescents about sex and that 49 per cent had no intention of doing so.
“About four out of ten parents are actually talking to their kids about being safe online and what we really need is ten out of ten kids getting that conversation,” says Madigan. “And the only way to have ten out of ten is if we have that conversation at school as well as, hopefully, at home.”