Fears that the images will go global may be unfounded. "A big concern is that online images will be picked up by child pornography offenders," Mitchell said. "But most images are contained in cellphones. Those can still get out but not in the majority. We actually found very few -- 12 percent total -- distributed beyond the intended recipient."
One in five kids who appeared in or created images reported being very upset, embarrassed or afraid, Mitchell said, as did one in four recipients.
Shari Kessel Schneider, who led a study on sexting and depression among Boston-area youth that was reported on last month by HealthDay, found a higher prevalence of sexting. However, she said it's difficult to compare studies with such different populations and definitions.
"There is a wide range of involvement encompassed within sexting behavior that may have negative social or psychological consequences for youth even if it does not meet the definition of child pornography," said Kessel Schneider of the Education Development Center in Newton, Mass.
She called the new work an important national study, but noted "because this survey was done via telephone and included a brief parent component, there is the possibility that sexting was underreported by youth who may have been concerned that their parents would find out about their involvement."
In the second study, also published in the January 2012 issue of Pediatrics and led by senior researcher Janis Wolak, U.S. law enforcement agencies provided details on 675 juvenile sexting cases from 2008 and 2009.
Aggravating factors such as alcohol and drug
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