Pediatricians Susan D. Swick and Michael S. Jellinek are concerned about the unintended consequences of electronic communication among adolescents, who are prone to intense emotional and impulsive behaviors:

Technology and social media now occupy a central place in the lives of our children and adolescents. According to data from the Pew Research Center in 2012, 75% of U.S. adolescents text. Texting has far outpaced phone calls and e-mail among adolescents as the primary means of (electronic) communication with family and friends. The number of texts they send has grown dramatically over the last few years, with a median of 100 texts sent daily among older adolescent girls in 2012. And it is increasingly challenging to distinguish texting from communication via other social media platforms: Flickr, Tumblr, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter. The new technology has augmented the local park or hangout as an essential aspect of adolescents developing their identity through intense interaction with peers.


“Sexting” is particularly worrisome:

Definitions vary, but sexting is most consistently defined as the taking of an explicit photograph of oneself and sending it to another via text or e-mail. There have been few controlled studies, but smaller surveys have suggested that between 20% and 30% of older adolescents have sent a sext, and a higher percentage have received them. Most of those sending these explicit photos are girls, and more than half of them report having been pressured to do so by a boy. While the likelihood of sending and receiving sexts is greatest among older adolescents, it can be a red flag for low self-esteem or social insecurity if a school-age or young teen is sending sexts.


Sexting might seem harmless to teenagers unaware that a text or an email exists forever and can be used against them on a college or a job application, or as a tool for cyberbullying and blackmail. But severe psychological, emotional, legal, and economic harm can occur when personal and explicit texts are disseminated beyond the initial recipient:

This can lead to intense shame and psychological distress, bullying, and isolation; the subsequent stress can cause depression, anxiety, or even suicidality. Even without the shame of wide distribution, several studies have found a correlation between sexting and impulsivity and substance use in adolescents. Then there are child pornography statutes that can find 18-year-olds charged with a felony for sharing a photo of someone under 18. Beyond sexting, the circulating of other personal photos or posts (about drinking at a party, for example) can seem a harmless impulse, but these are often permanent and might haunt adolescents as they apply to college or for jobs. The consequences of an impulsive photo shared online can be unexpected, enduring, and occasionally devastating, and, like other teenage behavior, long-term consequences are rarely a top priority.


Drs. Swick and Jellinek are also worried about more subtle risks of online communication:

For those adolescents who have difficulty getting off of their phone or the computer, they can fall behind in school work or spend less time in the wide range of physical, intellectual, and creative activities that should be a part of a healthy adolescence. When too many relationships are managed virtually, teens can struggle with the nuances of communication and emotional understanding that happen in live exchanges. The abilities to be patient, to tolerate frustration or uncertainty, and to defer gratification are essential life skills, and are not cultivated in time spent tending virtual connections


Read more from this interesting article in Pediatric News here.