As an adolescent pediatrician, parents are often telling me how difficult it can be to monitor what your kids are doing online and on their cell phones. Teens, especially, love to keep in touch with friends and aren’t that excited about telling mom and dad what’s going on in their lives.
But results from a recent study from Nationwide Children’s shows the importance of knowing what teens are up to and communicating about safe choices online and on their phones.
The study, which was published last month, surveyed one hundred and fifty teens evaluated for suspected child sexual abuse or sexual assault. The anonymous survey asked teens questions about their experiences sending or receiving nude or nearly nude photos or videos via cell phone, sexually suggestive text messaging, online sexual solicitations and offline first-time meetings with people met online.
Nearly 40 percent of teens replied that they had been exposed to five or more of the possible experiences asked about in the survey. And 18 percent had experienced 10 or more of the possible sexual exposures or experiences.
Other worrisome results:
More than 43 percent of all teens surveyed met someone younger than age 18 in person after only meeting them online. 24 percent met with someone age 18 or older.
About 10 percent of those younger than age 14, and 28 percent of those age 14 and older, have sent a sext picture or video of themselves.
Nearly 23 percent of those under age 14, and 57 percent of those age 14 and older, have received a sext picture or video of another person.
About 11 percent of those under age 14, and 47 percent of those age 14 and older have been solicited online for personal sexual information.
About 24 percent of those under age 14, and 55 percent of those 14 and older have been solicited online to do a sexual act.
Although these results are for teens with a history of sexual victimization, it underscores how common it is for teens to engage in these behaviors online or on their phones.
From social networking sites like Facebook to photo and video sites like Instagram, teens are sharing more than ever before. And new apps like Snapchat and Whisper make it possible for kids to message secretly, which encourages risky sharing and can make sexting seem okay.
Fortunately, there are resources for parents to understand what teens are using, so we can talk to our kids about these risks. By keeping open lines of communication between you and your kids, you can prevent them from engaging in risky behaviors and intervene before before exposures happen.
Corey J. Rood, MD, is a fellow physician in his second year of fellowship training with Nationwide Children's Hospital’s Child Advocacy Department. He provides direct patient care in the outpatient Child Advocacy Center and Fostering Connections Clinic.
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