FRIDAY, June 15, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Many teens send and receive sexually explicit photos on their cellphones and have little to no awareness of the possible mental health, social or legal consequences of doing so, a new study warns.
Researchers asked 606 students, some as young as 14, at a private high school in the southwestern United States about their experiences with "sexting" and the potential risks associated with being caught sexting.
Nearly 20 percent of the students said they had sent a sexually explicit image of themselves via cellphone, and nearly twice as many said they had received a sexually explicit picture. More than 25 percent of those who received a sexually explicit picture forwarded it to others.
Of those who had sent a sexually explicit picture, more than one-third did so despite believing that they could face serious legal and other consequences if they were caught.
The study also found that students who sent a sexually explicit picture by cellphone were more likely than others to believe it was an acceptable activity.
The study was published online June 7 in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.
"These results argue for educational efforts such as cellphone safety assemblies, awareness days, integration into class curriculum and teacher training, designed to raise awareness about the potential consequences of sexting among young people," wrote Donald Strassberg, of the University of Utah, and colleagues.
In many states, those who send or receive nude pictures of people under age 18 could face charges as serious as possession or distribution of child pornography. Penalties include being listed on a sex offender registry. The researchers also noted that people in sexually explicit photos may suffer serious mental health consequences.
The American Academy of Pediatrics explains how to talk to children and teens about social media and sexting.