Unrecognizable young girl using a touch phone modern gadget.We’ve posted about online safety as well as the dangers of sending sexually explicit text messages in the past, but a recent study in the journal Pediatrics, highlights the importance of making sure we educate teens and tweens about sexting early on.

In the study, researchers looked at the results of a national survey of middle school students. They found that 20% of students who had a cell phone reported receiving a sext and 5% reported sending a sext. For those students who send more than 100 text messages each day, they were over 2 times more likely to receive a sext and 4.5 times more likely to send a sext. They also found that those same students were more likely to be sexually active. In general, students who sent or received sexts were more likely to be sexually active and higher rates of texting were associated with higher rates of unprotected sex.

Now this type of study did not allow the researchers to say that sending text messages means a tween will be more likely to have sex, but the association was pretty surprising.

What does this mean for parents? Should we talk about sexting as soon as a child receives a cell phone? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that we should and I agree.

1. Use age appropriate terms. If your 10 year old receives their first cell phone it may not be developmentally appropriate to talk explicitly about sexting, but you can use language they can understand. Explain to them that they should never send a picture of their private parts or pictures of them self in their underwear. If someone sends a picture like this to them, tell an adult immediately.

2. Remind your child that what is sent in a text may not remain private. What’s posted online isn’t easily erased. The images can easily be passed along to peers, so if they have something to tell that they’d like to keep private, having a conversation via phone or in person is probably best.

3. Know the technology. If you provide a cell phone to your child, know what it can do and practice with it before passing it along to your teen. Most phones can send texts and photos these days, but not all are enabled with internet capabilities unless using a wireless network.

For more on sexting as well as online safety, see our previous posts:

Middle school teens and sexting

How parents can keep up with the social media landscape