NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A JAMA Pediatrics study released Monday showed a rise in the number of teenagers who engage in sexting, with approximately 1 in 7 teens sending sexts, and 1 in 4 receiving them.

The study, titled “Prevalence of Multiple Forms of Sexting Behavior Among Youth,” defines sexting as “the sharing of sexually explicit images, videos, or messages through electronic means.”

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The research included data from 39 separate research projects conducted between January 1990 and June 2016, with a total of 110,380 participants, all of whom were under 18 — with some as young as 11.

The researchers focused on data since 2008 and found an increase in sexting among young people.

The increased number of young people involved in sending or receiving sexually explicit photographs or messages has corresponded with rapidly expanding access to cell phones.

With that trend in mind, the study’s authors suggest that “age specific information on sexting and its potential consequences should regularly be provided as a component of sex education.”

A couple embrace as they take a photograph of themselves. (credit: Daniel Sorabji/AFP/Getty Images)

The researchers found that younger people engage in sexting in large part as a way to begin exploring attraction to other people.

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But sexting is dangerous behavior for immature teens who may not be ready for the far reaching consequences of it.

“When someone has a photo of you, it can be used for bullying… it’s just not good judgement,” said Dr. Grant Fowler, TCU & UNTHSC School of Medicine.

Dr. Fowler said parents need to intervene if they find out their kids are sexting.

“Until they reach an age of maturity there needs to be a way to monitor it,” he said.

Danger also arises from messaging apps that give the impression that videos and images shared or stored are private, although this may not be the case.

“The ones they need to be really careful about –Instagram and SnapChat – you think they go away fast but they don’t necessarily. One screen shot and it’s permanent,” explained Dr. Fowler.

Here’s more advice for parents.

  • Start the discussion early with your kids using broad questions such as “have you heard of sexting?” By understanding what your child already knows, you can then frame your conversation.
  • Use examples appropriate for your child’s age. Be specific about the possible consequences of sexting. “Parents should be proactive and not reactive,” Madigan said.
  • Remind your teenager of their own worth. Let them know that being pressured is not OK and that sexting is not a way to “prove” their love. “If you have the conversation early and often, when problems arise, then kids know they can go to their parents and talk to them,” Madigan said.
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