Monday, December 14, 2009

In age of 'sexting,' parents weigh options for blocking content

ANN ARBOR, Mich.--As cell phone use becomes common place among children, parents express growing concerns about the content and quantity of material transmitted via the devices. One major concern is "sexting," in which sexually explicit material is shared via text messages, photos or video transmitted between cell phones.

A report released today by the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health shows that 41 percent of parents are either "very" concerned or "somewhat" concerned with the amount of time their children spend text messaging.

The poll also shows that 27 percent of pre-teens, ages 9 - 12, and 75 percent of teens, ages 13 - 17, have their own cell phones. Among these children, 87 percent send and receive text messages and 23 percent access the Internet through their phones.

"We found that 55 percent of parents guard against inappropriate cell phone activity by limiting the time children can use their cell phone," says Matthew Davis, M.D., director of the poll and associate professor of general pediatrics and internal medicine at the U-M Medical School. "Time limits are used substantially more often by parents of preteens than by parents of teens."

However, a less common strategy, used by 33 percent of parents, involves blocking the transmission of images on children's cell phones. The poll found that 45 percent of parents block images on phones for pre-teens, while only 29 percent for teens.

"While many parents have placed limits related to time spent using cell phones, far fewer parents have instituted a mechanism for blocking images," says Davis, who is also associate professor of pediatrics and internal medicine in the U-M Medical School and associate professor of public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. "Parents may not be aware of the various options for blocking inappropriate content or the potential risks of sexting."

As parents and relatives consider purchasing cell phones as holiday gifts for kids, it may be wise to consider adding image blocking safeguards to calling plans. In addition, parents should establish rules and expectations with their teens and preteens, in order to guard against sexting, Davis says.

For parents not already doing so, most national cell phone companies will block image content for a monthly fee (usually $5-$10).


Download the report:

View the figures:

Download the questions:

American Academy of Pediatrics: Talking to kids about social media and sexting:

Methodology: This report presents findings from a nationally representative household survey conducted exclusively by Knowledge Networks, Inc, for C.S. Mott Children's Hospital via a method used in many published studies. The survey was administered in May 2009 to a randomly selected, stratified group of parents aged 18 and older (n=1,471) with children from the Knowledge Networks standing panel that closely resembles the U.S. population. The sample was subsequently weighted to reflect population figures from the Census Bureau. The survey completion rate was 56 percent among parent panel members contacted to participate. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 to 6 percentage points, depending on the question. For subgroups, the margin of error is higher.

To learn more about Knowledge Networks, visit

Purpose/Funding: The C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health - funded by the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases and part of the CHEAR Unit at the U-M Health System - is designed to measure major health care issues and trends for U.S. children.

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