The Pew Research Center reports that parents do not need to panic, in spite of all the press, very few teens are actually sending or receiving nude or sexually suggestive text messages. Results from a study with 800 youth across the country released in December suggest that only 15 percent of teens (aged 12 to 17) receive sex-related messages and only 4 percent send them.
The Pew study suggests for the youth who are sexting, it is part of a relationship. Both genders are equally likely to sext and it may be a prelude to sexual activity, a way to experiment that is not physical (and therefore has no risk for sexually transmitted infection or unwanted pregnancy), or part of an established romantic relationship.
Teens do need to be reminded that any text or pictures sent via cell phone can easily be forwarded to others or end up on the Internet, so caution is extremely important, as well as a conversation about what sexting says about you as a person. This seems to be a hard concept for many teens who see it as playful versus a statement about their character.
Some of my favorite quotes from the report: Young male: "Most people are too shy to have sex. Sexting is not as bad." Older male: "This is common only for girls with 'slut' reputations. They do it to attract attention."
Parents - 83 percent of 17 year-olds and 58 percent of 12-year-olds now have cell phones and most teens text, so a conversation about sexting would not be a waste of time!