When technology and hormones combine in the lives of teenagers, it’s the “perfect storm” for a worst-case-scenario like the one Nina Burleigh recounts:

On the last day of her life, Audrie Pott walked through a crucible of teenage torment. A curvaceous sophomore at Saratoga High School, dressed in the cool-girl’s uniform of a low-cut top and supershort skirt, she looked the same as always, but inside she was quivering with humiliation. In the week since school had started, girls had been giving her looks, and guys had congregated around phones, smirking. On Facebook, messages were pinging into her inbox, each one delivering another gut punch…


A new study published in Pediatrics exposes the growing problem of “cyber dating abuse,” cyberbullying, and sexting:

Technology is ubiquitous in adolescents’ lives, with more than three-quarters (78%) of adolescents (ages 12–17) reporting having a cell phone and 93% their own computer. Adolescents are increasingly using texting and online social networking sites to connect with other adolescents, with 63% reporting exchanging text messages daily and 29% reporting daily communication through social networking sites.


The research was conducted among California high school students who receive medical care at the school-based centers that serve as their primary care sites.  The results, says MacKenzie Carpenter, are “startling”:

Two in five teens surveyed [40%] had experienced cyberdating abuse in the context of a dating relationship in the past three months.

Thirty percent of them said they were involved in sexting, and of that group, 33 percent of females reported being asked to text photographs of themselves; 18 percent of young men were asked to do so.

“ ‘Sexting’ is the new norm,” said Rebecca Dick, lead author of the study by Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.


And the problem goes beyond what some teens consider benign and inconsequential sexting — as Audrie Potts tragically found out:

Most commonly, victims reported that abusive partners were using mobile apps, texting and other social networks to repeatedly contact them to see where they were and whom they were with.

The research also confirmed what previous research has shown: Teens exposed to cyberdating abuse were more likely to also experience physical and sexual dating abuse: being slapped, choked or forced to have sex by a dating partner.

Those teens also were more likely to experience non-partner sexual assault and used contraceptives less often.


The AAP says that awareness among pediatricians, parents, and schools and communication with kids about using technology appropriately are key in preventing bad things from happening to good kids:

Talk to your kids, even if the issue hasn’t directly impacted your community. “Have you heard of sexting?” “Tell me what you think it is.” For the initial part of the conversation, it is important to first learn what your child’s understanding is of the issue and then add to it an age appropriate explanation.


Keeping explanations age-specific is important in getting the point across that sexting is dangerous, hurtful, abusive, and illegal in many places:

For younger children with cell phones who do not yet know about sex, alert them that text messages should never contain pictures of people–kids or adults–without their clothes on, kissing or touching each other in ways that they’ve never seen before. For older children, use the term “sexting” and give more specifics about sex acts they may know about. For teens, be very specific that “sexting” often involves pictures of a sexual nature and is considered pornography.


Finally, tearing out newspaper or magazine articles about sensitive topics and giving them to kids to read is a great way to get the conversation going:

Monitor headlines and the news for stories about “sexting” that illustrate the very real consequences for both senders and receivers of these images. “Have you seen this story?” “What did you think about it?” “What would you do if you were this child?” Rehearse ways they can respond if asked to participate in inappropriate texting.


Previous PediaBlog coverage of sexting here and here.