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Teens with behavioural problems, particularly girls, more likely to sext: study

Researchers say it’s important to recognize and support youth who are vulnerable to sexual victimization
Published: 19 June 2024

It’s important that programs promoting safer sexting behaviours consider the specific needs of adolescents with behavioural problems, a new study by McGill University researchers suggests.

Adolescents with behavioural problems engage in elevated levels of sexting compared with their peers without such problems. While this is the case both for male and female teens, the researchers found, the link was stronger for the young women.

The researchers also found that girls who exhibited behavioural problems as children engage in elevated levels of sexting as adolescents. For boys, however, behavioural problems in childhood are not a predictor of future adolescent sexting, their study indicates.

As part of a larger inquiry into the developmental trajectories of children with early behavioural problems, the study had sought to understand what kinds of sexting activity youth were engaging in (sending, receiving, forwarding or receiving forwarded sexts) and any gender differences in their sexting behaviours.

Exploring teen sexuality in the digital age

Digital technology offers a vast space where young people can explore their sexuality and identity. The researchers emphasize the need to include online sexual behaviours and gender nuances in sex education.

“This rapidly evolving digital landscape also brings forth novel and unique risks, such as sextortion and online sexual violence. Through our research, we aim to guide efforts to promote safe and responsible online behaviour among youth, with a specific focus on the needs of youth with conduct problems,” said Caroline Temcheff, Associate Professor at McGill University and Director of the Healthy Development Lab.

The researchers urge educators, parents and mental health professionals to have open, non-judgmental dialogues with youth to help guide and support them through the complexities of human interactions in the digital age. The study contributes information about which youth might be at greater risk.

“They must recognize and support youth who may be particularly vulnerable to experiencing sexual victimization, such as girls with conduct problems,” said Audrey Mariamo, the study’s first author and PhD student in Educational and Counselling Psychology under the supervision of Temcheff.

These efforts are integral to promoting digital literacy and helping young people safely and responsibly navigate digital landscapes,” said the researchers.

About the study

Conduct problems and sexting: Gender differences by Audrey Mariamo, Alexa Martin-Storey, Michelle Déry, Melina Tomasiello and Caroline E. Temcheff was published in the May 2024 edition of Computers in Human Behavior.

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