There’s no easier way to scare up ratings and circulation than to push a trend that involves teenagers, sex, and technology. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a couple dumb laws passed in response. When a careful study comes out months later showing the whole thing was hooey, most people will have forgotten.
One in 10 children ages 10 to 17 has used a cellphone to send or receive sexually suggestive images, but only 1 in 100 has sent images considered graphic enough to violate child pornography laws, a new study found.
The results of the study, published on Monday in the journal Pediatrics, are based on detailed telephone interviews with 1,560 children across the country. It is one of the largest surveys yet to look at the prevalence of sexting among minors, a phenomenon that has drawn concern from schools and law enforcement and that has prompted nationwide legislation trying to curb it.
An earlier, often-cited study had estimated that as many as one in five teenagers engaged in sexting, but it included 18- and 19-year-olds, most likely increasing the overall prevalence.
In recent years, high-profile cases in which teenagers were arrested for forwarding nude pictures of other minors have attracted nationwide attention. Despite sexting’s reputation as a teenage pastime, surveys now suggest that it is actually more common among young adults than children.
“It only takes one or two cases to make people think this is very prevalent behavior,” said Janis Wolak, an author of the new paper and a senior researcher at the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. “This has been reported as if it were something that everyone was doing, not just in the teen population, but in the young adult population. It’s really not the case.”
Last year, I vented my wrath at prosecutors who are ringing up minors on child porn charges for “exploiting” themselves.