Kids As Young As 11 Are Sexting, Study Finds, & Here's What Parents Need to Know

Ad failed to load

If you catch your kid sexting, don't be alarmed — well, OK, be a little alarmed, but if it's any consolation, know that your kid isn't the only one doing it. According to recent research, sexting among teens and children as young as 11 has increased over the past decade. As many as one in four young people said they'd received sexts, and one in seven admitted to sending them, but the study's authors have suggestions for concerned parents and educators.

Sexting, according to, is "the sending of sexually explicit digital images, videos, text messages, or emails, usually by cell phone." So it's certainly disconcerting that kids are engaging in it — but not so much because it's sexual; more so because there can be serious consequences to sexting that could hurt teens' and pre-teens' emotional wellbeing.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, pulled data from 39 research projects conducted between January 1990 and June 2016, with a total of 110,380 participants, all of whom were under the age of 18 and some of whom were as young as 11. Since 2008, the researchers have noticed an increase in sexting among the participants — more 18-and-under kids have been sending or receiving sexually explicit photographs or messages than 10 years ago.

Ad failed to load

Because evermore young people have smart phones (on average, children in the study were 10.3 years old when they got their first smartphones), and because social media consumes students' attention even within school walls these days, it's no real surprise that more of them are sexting. But parents are growing concerned that sexting could lead to the mass sharing of explicit photography or messages that could haunt their children for years to come.

Moreover, the rise in messaging apps like Snapchat that "delete" photos and videos after they're sent have given a lot more young people the false notion that they're safe in sending explicit content via these mediums.

Ad failed to load

Teens can sometimes assume safety, explained study co-author and assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Calgary, Sheri Madigan, according to CNN. "Kids don't really have a clear understanding of cause and effect," she said, CNN reported. "When they send a picture, they may not recognize they can't get it back or that it is really up to the recipient."

But in order to talk to your kids about the repercussions that could come of sexting, it's important to understand why kids do it in the first place, according to the study's authors — and that's largely because they're exploring their attraction to others, CNN reported.

Ad failed to load

Older teens are also sexting more often than younger teens, so it's not surprising that older teens are both more likely to sext and have sexual intercourse, according to CBS. Boys are often the requesters, and girls are often the senders of nude images and videos.

"As teens get older, we are going to see increasing numbers... who sext, just as we see with actual sexual behavior," said study co-author and professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Jeff Temple, according to CNN. "It's not terribly surprising considering, as teens age, their interest in sexuality is heightened. They are trying to figure out who they are."

With that in mind, the study's authors suggest that sexual education touch on sexting, according to CNN. "Age specific information on sexting and its potential consequences should regularly be provided as a component of sex education," the authors suggest, CNN reported.

Ad failed to load

Parents need to know that demonizing sexting won't work, since kids are indeed doing it anyway. This conversation needs to be about reminding pre-teens and teenagers of their own worth, according to CNN, and letting them know that being pressured is not OK.

But the conversation doesn't just mean telling kids why they should be careful about sexting — it also needs to be about why, if they receive sexts, they should never harass or extort someone with those images.

Ad failed to load

Because relationships among tweens (children 10 to 12) are often short-lived, they are more vulnerable to having their sexts forwarded without consent or being subject to sextortion, which is the use of nude images and/or videos as a form of threat or blackmail, according to CNN. In fact, 12.5 percent of young people reported having been forwarded a sext without consent from the sender and/or the receiver.

Although girls and boys sext a similar amount, girls reported feeling more pressure to sext and also worried more about being judged harshly for sexting (read: slut shaming) or for not sexting (read: being called "prude") than boys, according to CBS.

Girls can often face more emotional stress than boys during sexting, since boys may see sexting as an opportunity to showcase their social status, but the double standard affects girls unfairly, CBS reported.

Ad failed to load

To avoid the emotional stress from nonconsensual and coerced sexts altogether, parents and educators need to have conversations with their children and students early on.

"Parents should be proactive and not reactive," Madigan said, according to the Scientific American. "If you have the conversation early and often, when problems arise, then kids know they can go to their parents and talk to them."

Ad failed to load

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

These Millennial Parents Are Taking Gender-Neutral Parenting To An Entirely New Level

A woman on the subway looks at my bulbous shape and asks, “What are you having?” I take a deep breath and throw a glance to my 5-year-old. “I’m having a baby,” I say to the woman. “No, no” the woman says laughing as she pushes further. “Are you havin…
By Madison Young

I’m Registered At Babies “R” Us, & I'm Freaking The Hell Out

Hi. My name is Abi, and I’m registered at Babies “R” Us — and I’m freaking out. This may sound silly, but after being a die-hard Toys “R” Us kid, I was so excited to register at their baby store once my husband and I finally got our big fat positive …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

My Daughter Is Obsessed With Being "Pretty" & I'm Way Past Terrified

Last week, when I picked up my daughter after school, she immediately wanted to know if I liked her hair. "Is it pretty?" she asked. Her hair was pulled up into two ponytails that were intertwined into thick, long braids. A shimmering pink and purple…
By Dina Leygerman

7 Things No One Tells You About Having A Baby In Your 20s, But I Will

I was 24 when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. The pregnancy was a surprise, since I was on birth control (side note: antibiotics and birth control don't mix), but my partner and I decided to continue with the pregnancy and committed to m…
By Candace Ganger

Women Who Miscarry Early Deserve To Grieve — Here's How Hospitals Should Be Helping

When I lost my baby back in 2013, it was because of a very early miscarriage. Because of the little amount of time I spent being pregnant, it was though my child had never really existed, which made the next few years hard — I felt like they had been…
By Risa Kerslake

7 Things I Wish My Partner Had Said To Me In The First Hour After Giving Birth

I don't know if it was the buzz of the surrounding machines, the non-existent cry of our son as the doctors tried to resuscitate him, or the fact that I'd already been through labor and delivery once before, but I knew something was missing after I h…
By Candace Ganger

Moms’ Groups Weren’t For Me, Sorry

I go to my moms’ club everyday of the week, but not usually on weekends. My moms' group is a place I can always count on finding fellow mothers who understand the daily struggles and triumphs of parenthood and of juggling life’s responsibilities. Dep…
By Samantha Taylor

Millennial Women Are Getting Married Later Than Gen X, & The Reasons Why Are Pretty Badass

The battle of the generations seems to come up when it comes to every lifestyle or career choice people make. Women, especially, are an important demographic when it comes to analysts looking at the lifestyle choices we make or the expected milestone…
By Josie Rhodes Cook

I've Had 3 Miscarriages But *Please* Keep Telling Me About Your Pregnancy

I can feel the tension the moment my friend announces her pregnancy. I can hear the forced nonchalant attitude she's willing herself to exude as she fishes for the ultrasound. I know why I was the last to learn that she was expecting; why she keeps l…
By Danielle Campoamor

7 Early Signs You're Going To Need An Epidural, According To Experts

Even if you've constructed an elaborate birth plan, it's impossible to control every aspect of labor and delivery. Complications can occur, proactive measures might be necessary, and your mind is subject to change when those damn contractions really …
By Candace Ganger

I'm Pregnant & I Refuse To Read Any Parenting Books

I didn't read any parenting books when I was expecting my daughter, and I refuse to read any parenting books as I await my second child now. I'm the first to admit that I don't really know what I'm doing when it comes to raising my daughter. A good d…
By Marie Southard Ospina

7 Reasons Why March Babies Are Total Badasses

From the moment you become pregnant, you begin to wonder what your little one will be like. Will they look like you, your partner, or your Great Aunt Edna? Will they be the quiet, thoughtful type or arrive on this planet raring to go? It's fun to ima…
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

12 Overnight Face Masks To Use To Wake Up Feeling Pampered AF

Spring is right around the corner, and as far as I'm concerned, the sunshine and warm breezes can't come soon enough. But now that we're about to say goodbye to winter, it's a good time to take stock of your facial skincare routine. You know, in the …
By Katie Malczyk

11 Essential Products To Pack In Your Hospital Bag, According To OB-GYNs

The minute you go into labor (or think you're going into labor), chaos ensues. You and your partner are likely to get a little frantic, just like in the movies, so you most definitely want to have a hospital bag packed before the day comes. This prec…
By Abi Berwager Schreier

7 Photos You *Must* Take In The First 6 Months Of Motherhood

In my experience, becoming a mom is like becoming an amateur photographer. There's just something about the need to capture every single coo and sorta-smile that leaves you obsessed with all things photography. I know I couldn't stop taking selfies w…
By Candace Ganger

Here's How Early An Ultrasound Can Actually Determine Your Baby's Sex

From the moment you see those two lines on a pregnancy test, there are a few markers along the way that stand out as especially exciting. Amongst them are hearing your baby's heartbeat and feeling that first, sweet little kick. And if you are finding…
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

9 Easy Kid Foods To Turn Green, Just In Time For St. Patrick's Day

The best part about having kids is that you get your own personal crew to celebrate the holidays with, in all your color coordinating and matching glory. And with St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner, you are obviously working on turning everyth…
By Mishal Ali Zafar

Here Are Some Conditions That Might Require You To Be On Bed Rest During Pregnancy

When I worked in an office, I worked with quite a few pregnant ladies all at the same time. Something must have been in the water, because while I was there for three years, two of my coworkers got pregnant twice, and another girl was pregnant with h…
By Abi Berwager Schreier

I Didn't Follow The Pregnancy Diet Rules & My Daughter Turned Out Just Fine

My diet is an ever-changing and wholly personal thing, which is precisely why I refused to follow any pregnancy diet rules when I was expecting my daughter. For years, I've essentially practiced intuitive eating, in that I listen to my body and eat w…
By Marie Southard Ospina

5 Foods You & Your Partner Should Eat If You're Trying To Get Pregnant

When you're trying to conceive (TTC) and it's just not happening, it's easy to feel like you're doing something wrong. It can be soul-crushing to keep seeing negatives when all you really want to do is wave a positive pregnancy test in the air. So wh…
By Kate Miller