Students who have sexted are more common than those who don't, researchers from the University of Rhode Island found.
In examining the impact of technology use on the physical and mental health, and on the interpersonal relationships in college students, assistant professors Sue K. Adams and Tiffani S. Kisler found that two-thirds of a group of 204 college students sexted sexually suggestive messages. Both assistant professors are leading a team conducting three studies on this issue.
Their research also shows that 56 percent of the group received sexted images, while 78 percent were receivers of sexually suggestive messages. Seventy-three percent of those messages were sent to a relationship partner, and 10 percent were sent without consent of the person who originally sent the message.
With the new sexting laws in place in Rhode Island, it could mean that more than half of those students could be status offenders if they were caught. This is because Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed a bill earlier this month outlawing sexting by minors. The bill states that minors who create and send sexually explicit images of themselves can be charged with a status offense. They may also be referred to a family court.
Minors and adults who possess or forward sexual images of anyone below 18 years may be charged under the state's child pornography laws.
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Kisler and Adams now say that education on technology practices is vital for college students, and anyone for that matter, to understand the importance of setting boundaries around technology use.
It is a delicate situation with the new laws that are in place, Kisler said in a statement. While it is important to protect minors and help them recognize the short- and long-term implications of sending sexually explicit images, opening them up to something as serious as potential child pornography charges may not be the most effective course of action.
The research shows that 17 percent of those surveyed have forwarded sexually explicit messages they received to others.
College freshmen are right at that 17- and 18-year-old threshold, Adams said. Whether it is classmates in college or friends from high school, we have to wonder how many students are thinking about the ages of the people they are communicating with.
Kisler said the danger for many students is that they don't recognize they haven't the control over who is seeing their messages.
At the young age of most college students, people are filtering through relationships at a faster rate, Kisler said. People want to feel a sense of belonging, so they are sharing more of themselves with people they are still getting to know. Once they click that 'send' button, they don't know where else a message will wind up.
California is among the states that added sexting to the list of things students can be expelled from school for.
Besides legal ramifications, texting can have a problem with one's physical health.
Adams and Kisler found that in a study of 236 college juniors and seniors, 47 percent reported that they were awakened by texts messages. Those students responded to the messages before falling back asleep. Forty percent of the students answered phone calls during sleep.
Students who used the technology throughout the night were losing on averaging as much as 44 minutes of sleep per week because of text messages and calls they get, according to the research.
This sleep interruption pattern showed indicators of other issues for students such poor sleep quality, depression and anxiety. More than 93 percent of students have reported texting while driving, and more than 82 percent said they've sent messages while behind the wheel since the state passed the law banning texting and driving.
Although the texting-while-driving ban has decreased the behavior for some, the difference is probably not as significant as law makers would have hoped, Adams said. It is possible that students do not believe that they will get caught, or that the penalty is minimal enough to risk texting while driving. Many students are also confused about the definition of the law. They are unclear if it includes sending or reading a text while driving or stopped.