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Teen 'sexting' trend is overblown, national study finds

Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh law enforcement officials recently confirmed that the number of reports of teenagers sending each other explicit pictures over the Internet or through text message are lower than commonly believed, and are dropping. That matches the national trend, according to a study recently released by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The report said that very few minors have sent pictures that would be considered child pornography.

Teens sending each other nude or semi-nude photos of themselves, commonly known as "sexting," have received a great deal of media attention on television shows like "Dr. Phil." Based on those TV reports, it is natural to assume that teenagers are sexting each other all the time.

But the national study refutes that. In a survey, only about 2.5 percent of 10- to 17-year-olds said they have sent suggestive photos online or by text message. Of the pictures that were sent, only 1 percent were explicit enough to be considered child pornography, with another 1 percent being the level of bikini shots. Receiving photos was a little more common, with 7 percent of teens having gotten one, but few said they did anything with the pictures.

Pittsburgh police said that they have had fewer reports of sexting in 2011 than last year. Some believe that technology such as Skype makes it easier for teenagers to send pictures without a technological trail for officers to find.

Even when teens are caught, they are unlikely to face criminal charges unless the sexting is part of another crime like harassment. The Allegheny County district attorney said his office prefers to educate teens on the dangers of sexting rather than prosecute.

Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "National study: Youth 'sexting' is downplayed," Bill Vidonic, Dec. 5, 2011

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