Middle school students who have engaged in "sexting" -- sending or receiving sexually suggestive text messages or photos -- are dramatically more likely to be sexually active, according to a USC study released Monday.
The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, differed from previous "sexting" studies that have primarily focused on high school students and young adults, according to researchers.
"These findings call attention to the need to train health educators, pediatricians and parents on how best to communicate with young adolescents about sexting in relation to sexual behavior," said Eric Rice, assistant professor at the USC School of Social Work and lead author of the study.
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"The sexting conversation should occur as soon as the child acquires a cell phone," he said.
The study found that middle school students who received a "sext" message were six times more likely to report being sexually active.
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Young teens who sent sexually explicit tests were four times more likely to report being sexually active. Those who reported receiving a "sext" were 23 times more likely to have also sent one, researchers found.
According to the study, youth who texted more than 100 times a day were more than twice as likely to have received a "sext" and more than four times more likely to have sent one.
"Our results show that excessive, unlimited or unmonitored texting seems to enable sexting," Rice said. "Parents may wish to openly monitor their young teen's cell phone, check in with them about who they are communicating with and perhaps restrict their number of texts allowed per month."