A talk parents should have: expert

Sarah Wiedersehn
(Australian Associated Press)

Parents of teenagers may deny it but there is a good chance their child may be among the estimated one in seven teens sending explicit texts, or the one in four to have received a ‘sext’.

New research, published in journal JAMA Pediatrics, has confirmed sexting is on the rise among high school students due to the prevalence of the smartphone and other digital devices, prompting calls for better education in schools.

Parents should also discuss sexting with their teenage kids, says sexual health expert, Dr Christopher Fisher at La Trobe University’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society.

“It’s a conversation worth having, it’s worth talking about ‘digital citizenship’ and what are the implications around sexting in terms of things like consent,” said Dr Fisher.

A good digital citizenship refers to those who use online tools appropriately and safely.

Dr Fisher says while sexting can be just as an extension of natural sexual curiosity, it is also important for teens to recognise the “permanency” of sending a sext.

“Parents are really important it that conversation. Parents can provide some guidance in terms of values and how they might approach winning in this digital age we are in,” Dr Fisher told AAP.

Researchers at the University of Calgary, Canada, conducted a meta-analysis of all the published research literature on sexting, drawing from 39 international studies between 2009 and 2016.

The data involved a total of 110,000 teens aged between 12 and 17 from numerous countries including Australia.

According to the findings, 15 per cent reported sending a text and 27 per cent had received one.

Older teens were more likely to engage in sexting than their younger peers, and boys and girls were equally likely to participate in sexting.

An estimated 10 per cent had forwarded a sext without consent or had a sext forwarded without consent.

“The prevalence of sexting has increased in recent years and increases as youth age. Further research focusing on non-consensual sexting is necessary to appropriately target and inform intervention, education, and policy efforts,” the authors wrote.

Included in the research review was a 2015 study of sexting behaviour of 2000 Year 10, 11 and 12 students in Australia, which found nearly half (42 per cent) had received a sext from a fellow student.

One in four students (26 per cent) had sent a sexually explicit image of themselves and one in 10 had sent a sexually explicit image of someone else.

The Australian study also found 22 per cent of students had used social media for sexual reasons.

Just like many other things, young people are using digital devices to navigate their natural sexual curiosity, said Dr Fisher.

“Their increased use of the internet just to find information about sexual health and wellbeing has increased dramatically in the last 10 years. It’s just what you would expect given the prevalence of digital tools like the smartphone,” he said.


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