When my kids were first online, I was more lenient that most parents about supervising their activities. I always thought that there was a lot of hysteria about the dangers of the virtual world, which I still think is no more hazardous than the real world.
But a new study published in the journal Pediatrics has given me reason to rethink that view. Researchers at the University of Southern California surveyed nearly 2,000 Los Angeles high schoolers and found that those who sent sexually explicit texts or photos on their cell phones were more likely to be engaging in unsafe sex.
Other researchers have studied this practice – known as sexting – and have found that it is increasingly common.
A study earlier this year of teens in Houston found that one in four teens had sent a naked shot of themselves through text or email and those sexters were also much more likely to be having sex. In that study, sponsored by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, only about two-thirds of the teens said they used a condom. The actual percentage was probably lower since other studies have shown that teens aren't always reliable when they give out information about their sexual activity.
What should parents do? The California researcher told Reuters that parents and teachers should think about using sexting scandals involving politicians and celebrities as "teachable moments" to talk about the issue.