With sexting on the rise parents and educators are grappling with how best to protect teens: preach abstinence or teach them how to be safe?

Most teenagers, at increasingly younger ages, are going to deal with some kind of sexting-related experience. In February 2018, a University of Calgary study analyzed the findings of 39 international studies that altogether included 110,380 teenagers. It found that one in seven had sent a sext (a sexually explicit image, video or message) and one in four had received them. Twelve per cent had shared them. Older teens were more likely to sext and the study suggests girls and boys are equal participants. Since the most recent of the studies was from 2016, lead author Sheri Madigan admits the numbers are probably conservative.

Media Smarts published a February 2018 survey of 800 Canadians between the ages of 16 and 20. 66 per cent said they had received a nude picture. 40 per cent reported sending one and nearly half also said the picture had been shared. One in ten said they had sexted 10 times or more.

“We always tell kids what not to do – avoid, avoid, avoid – but we don’t tell them how to do things right,” says Jeff Temple, a psychologist at the University of Texas, who studies teenage sexting and was the co-author of the University of Calgary study.