Sexting and Internet safety have moved into the top-10 list of adult’s major health concerns for children, according to survey results released Aug. 10. Conducted by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, the survey found these high-tech worries have overtaken such long-time concerns as smoking and teen pregnancy.
“The increasing level of concern about Internet safety and sexting that are now ranked even higher than smoking as major childhood health issues really dominates the story this year,” Matthew Davis, MD, director of the National Poll on Children’s Health and professor of pediatrics and internal medicine in the child health unit at the University of Michigan (U-M) Medical School, said in a university news release.
Results from a survey of 1,982 adults ages 18 and older found that Internet safety rose from eighth on the list in 2014 to fourth this year, with 51 percent of the respondents citing it as a top concern. Sexting – sending and receiving sexually suggestive texts and photos – was cited by 45 percent of survey participants and made the largest leap, jumping from 13th to sixth on the list.
“The public is well aware of the potential risks to children and teens of Internet activities and sexting, such as cyberbullying and predatory behavior,” Davis told Reuters Health in an email. “Children’s use of the Internet continues to grow, so it makes sense that growing use, without much evidence of greater safety, would lead to higher levels of public concern,” he added.
However, sexting and Internet safety were not high on the list of concerns for black respondents, who rated depression fourth, school safety fifth and alcohol abuse seventh. Among Hispanics, child abuse and neglect ranked third, but were ranked fifth by the general public.
“We found that adults from different communities across the U.S. see the challenges of child health differently,” Davis said in the news release. “It’s important to understand the priorities of different communities we are trying to reach as we work to safeguard children’s health and help them live the healthiest lives they can.”
Overall, childhood obesity, bullying and drug abuse remained the top three concerns for the second year in a row. Smoking and tobacco use, usually rated near the top, fell from fourth to seventh place. School violence was ranked eighth, followed by teen pregnancy and stress.
The growing concern about sexting and Internet safety underscores the need for parents to keep the lines of communication open with their children and monitor not only their comings and goings, but also their activities online, Kathleen Davis, PhD, director of pediatric palliative care and ethics at the University of Kansas Hospital, told Reuters Health.
“Parents must take on a greater ‘hands on’ approach to parenting, knowing what their child is texting, emailing, snap chatting, facebooking and blogging and with whom they are communicating in those fashions,” advised Davis, who was not involved in the poll.