Sexting Teens More Likely To Engage In Risky Behavior

By Amir Khan on September 17, 2012 11:41 AM EDT

driving while texting
Teens who "sext" are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior than teens who don't, according to a new study, published in the journal Pediatrics. (Photo: Creative Commons: mrJasonWeave)

Teens who "sext" are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior than teens who don't, according to a new study, published in the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers surveyed more than 1,800 teens in the Los Angeles area and found that of the teens who used cell phones, 15 percent admitted to sexting -- the sending and receiving of sexually explicit text messages. In addition, teens who sent sext messages were seven times more likely to be sexually active, according to the study.

"This study is the first to show what teens are doing with their cellphones and what they're doing with their bodies," Eric Rice, study author and assistant professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California, told ABC News.

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Teens who sexted were more likely to know someone else who did as well, showing that peer pressure may play a role in sexting, researchers said.

"There are some groups of teens who are sexting and some groups of teens who are not," Rice said. "If their friends do it, they're going to do it. The teens who are sexting are in peer groups in which sexting is a normal part of their behaviors."

Rice also said that it's important that parents are aware of not only who their kids are talking to, but what they are saying.

"Parents have understood for a long time who their kids hang out with impacts whether or not they get involved with drugs or try hard in school," he said. "Now parents should be worried about who their kids hang out may affect whether or not they are sexting."

However, although there was a link between sexting and risky sexual behavior, researchers said that it's not clear that sexting leads to sex. It could be the other way around as well.

"When we reach adolescence, we are hardwired to become sexually aware and engage in sexual behavior," Karen North, director of the Annenberg Program on Online Communities at the University of Southern California, who was not involved with the study, told ABC News. "That behavior, which is completely normal for adolescents who are coming of age, is now being facilitated today by technology that can make this type of behavior accidentally become public." she said.

Ultimately, parents need to be able to speak openly and frankly with their kids about the dangers of sexting and other risky sexual behaviors, Dr. Elizabeth Alderman, professor of clinical pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York, told ABC News.

"Parents should be informed on how to talk to their kids about the use of cellphones and sexting," she said. "Before giving your kids a cellphone, they need to talk about the responsibility of being given this privilege. Parents should talk about the fact that it should only be used for certain types of communication."

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