New Findings on the Prevalence of Teen Sexting

According to a new study by the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project, 15 percent of teens who have a cell phone have received messages or images of a sexually explicit nature, a practice that has recently become known as sexting.

The study’s data comes from phone surveys, questionnaires and interviews with 800 American teens between the ages of twelve and seventeen, 625 of whom had cell phones of their own.

The study was able to apply statistics to a situation which has worried lawmakers and parents since anecdotal evidence for it first hit the mainstream news. Law enforcement officials have since been stepping in more and more as they attempt to take control of the increasingly unruly sexting situation.

On the one hand, their actions have seemed somewhat disproportionate and unfair when it leads to teens being prosecuted as sex offenders, a lifetime label, for possessing nude or nearly nude photos of their own girlfriends or ex-girlfriends, or in some cases of themselves.

The stories include those like Phillip Albert, an eighteen year old boy who forwarded a naked picture of his sixteen year old girlfriend in a fit of rage after the couple had a fight. Albert was found guilty of sending out child pornography, and registered as a sex offender.

On the other hand, stories like that of Hope Witsell, a teen girl who committed suicide after a nude picture of her was shared with classmates, drive home the serious consequences that can result from authority figures failing to step in or from responding inappropriately to sexting situations.

Some states have already begun changing their laws to take into account the fact that the real problem here is not child pornography, but the generations old fight to get teenagers to think before acting in ways they might later regret.

The Pew Research results found that 4 percent of teens who own cell phones had actually sent photos of themselves to someone else. The likelihood grew along with those involved, with seventeen year olds being twice as likely as the overall average to have sent images.

15 percent of teens who owned cell phones reported receiving sexts. By the age of seventeen, that percentage was as high as 30 percent.

The study found that teens who pay for their own phone were more likely to send sexts. Teens who paid for all of the costs associated with their phones sent the controversial messages at the rate of 17 percent, as opposed to those who paid none or only part of their bill who reported only 3 percent.

Dealing with focus groups highlighted three separate scenarios for sexting. The first scenario is the exchanging of images between romantic partners. The second involved partners exchanging images, then one or the other sharing them with individuals outside of the relationship. The third and last scenario, and perhaps the most dangerous, involved a situation where the two individuals involved in the exchange are not in a relationship, but at least one of them hopes to be.

All of these possible scenarios show the need to teach young people the importance of considering their actions carefully, and being aware that things they do now may hurt themselves or others in the future. Click here for more on this controversial topic.