Dr. Kyle Bradford Jones says the potential dangers go way beyond the embarrassment of pictures going public. Research shows sexting is tied to other risky, life-altering behaviors that no parent wants to have happen to their kids. Listen to this short, three-minute podcast to find out the signs, the real risks and what to do about it.">

Jan 3, 2016 — If you catch your child sexting, or even suspect it, take it seriously and take action. Dr. Kyle Bradford Jones says the potential dangers go way beyond the embarrassment of pictures going public. Research shows sexting is tied to other risky, life-altering behaviors that no parent wants to have happen to their kids. Listen to this short, three-minute podcast to find out the signs, the real risks and what to do about it.

Interview

Dr. Jones: Both sexting and Internet safety are increasing concerns for parents of adolescents. I'm Dr. Kyle Bradford Jones, a Family Physician at the University of Utah. We'll find out why, coming up next on The Scope.

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Dr. Jones: Every year, the CS Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor performs a poll of adults on the biggest concerns they have for children in the United States. The results of the survey this year showed that there are two topics that increased in rankings much more than any other: sexting and Internet safety. So what is sexting? This is basically sending any sexually explicit messages, which may or may not include sexually related photos, over text or over the Internet. So you can see how this adds a new element to the sexual experience for adolescents.

Now, there have been multiple studies that have looked at this. From a public health perspective, it's estimated from 7-31% of adolescents engage in sexting. But many of the studies have found multiple negatives from this. First of all, adolescents are more likely to engage in riskier sexual behaviors if they participate in sexting. This means more partners, more unprotected sex, which leads to more sexually transmitted infections and unwanted teen pregnancies. It also decreases the age at which they become sexually active, which can then worsen the other risky behaviors that we just mentioned.

Another negative about sexting is that it increases the likelihood of an adolescent using both legal and illegal substances, such as alcohol, drugs, etc. There is also the increased likelihood that adolescents will have low self-esteem and this contributes to emotional confusion in relationships, not only in the short term but can set them up for that for the rest of their lives. There's also the risk that any explicit pictures or messages can make it online in a public forum if a relationship goes poorly.

Now, sexting goes right along with Internet safety, which has many of the same concerns. So a lot of this concern over Internet safety has to do with inappropriate relationships, whether sexual or otherwise. Adolescents then spend too much time on other things on the computer, which can lead to poor socialization and even an increase in obesity.

A few things to watch for in your adolescent. Maybe lots of computer use in a private place, such as their bedroom and when you go to talk to them or check in on them, they might be trying to hide something. Another thing is poor social relationships with friends. So that they mainly have connections with Internet acquaintances they may be more willing to share personal info with. Another thing is obsessions with certain celebrities that may provide a poor example of sexuality and what is considered normal and so that is one thing to keep an eye on, on whom their role models are.

So in summary, sexting and Internet safety are increasing worries for parents and have many public health consequences. The best ways to get help and to get around this are to talk with your children about this so they understand your concerns and know that they can come to you when needed.

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