An Interview with Dr. Susan Lipkins: What is Going on with Cell Phones with Adolescents in America?

An Interview with Dr. Susan Lipkins: What is Going on with Cell Phones with Adolescents in America?


Michael F. Shaughnessy - May 17, 2009
Senior Columnist
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico


1) Dr. Lipkins, you have just conducted some research on what is going on with teenagers and adolescents with their cell phones. What have you found out?


My research was not limited to cell phones, it included all forms of digital devices. I discovered that 65% of teens aged 13-19 are sexting, and I believe that is an underestimation.

2) As I understand it, some of our children are sending provocative
pictures of themselves on their cell phones. Do you know when this started, and what do you see as the implications?


Sexting; defined for my study, as sending or receiving sexually provocative images, has been occurring for several years. By 2006, we observed many teens and young adults posting albums including sexually provocative pics on websharing sites. (fyi, I was involved in the exposure of hazing pics.) This was partially due to the fact that digital cameras made it easy to snap and post. In a similar way, cell phones have made it even easier to snap and send. We, the public, have known of such info in other arenas (i.e. Abu Gharib) but no one really defined or focused on sexting. 


I suspect there has been an increase in the type of sexualized materials shared, as video cams and video chats have become more widespread. 

3) I understand texting, but the phrase "sexting" seems to have a different meaning. What does it mean to our children and adolescents?


Most kids know about the act of sending sexualized photos but very few have used or even heard of the term "sexting." It became popular in Jan 2009 after the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and released a marketing study that provided data on sexting.

4) Apparently, we are undergoing, perhaps another sexual revolution, but I still remain concerned about syphilis, gonorrhea, AIDS, chalymidia, and stuff that even I can't pronounce.


I agree, STD's are rising at an incredible rate.

5) Who is doing sex education among our adolescents?


I believe it varies according to the school system.  For example, in parochial schools there is often no sex education. Public schools vary in the type of information they teach, and the ages at which info is given. I think sexting is part of a health curriculum. It can be considered part of internet safety, part of cyberbullying and part of sexual harassment, as well as sex education.

6) And what is wrong with their programs?


Mike, I am not qualified to comment on this.


7) I am sure there are some laws about pornography, but we can't expect the local cop on the beat to check kids' cell phones. Ultimately, who does this fall to?

I think society needs to recognize that sexting, like alcohol consumption, is not something that will change due to the threat of prosecution. Laws cannot change culture. In malicious sexting, I think the cases could be prosecuted under existing laws, considering it a form of sexual harassment.

8) Perhaps kids have way too much free time on their hands and not enough homework. What should the schools and teachers be teaching about this kind of behavior? 


I think quite the opposite. I see kids burdened by homework and extra curricular activities. I think we have taken the child out of childhood. Direct teaching about drugs and bullying has raised awareness, but it has not stopped the activities.


Therefore,there are other interventions that may be more useful. Before we add laws and curriculum, I think we need to understand the phenomenon.

9) I understand that you have been on Oprah to discuss your research. What was her reaction and the reaction of the audience?


Actually, I was on Oprah about sexualized bullying, not sexting.


I think the audience was very interested in this topic, and it is way too common.

10) You seem to be concerned that there are power issues at work her with teens sending images of their body parts to others. How does power and control fit into this picture?


I believe that power and control is involved in revenge sexting; in sexting that is done to humiliate, demean and harass.  


My study found that when comparing sexters vs non-sexters, sexters had a  higher power score. 


However, when analyzed by age, teens and young adults who sexted, did not differ from non-sexters on their power score.


This means that adult sexters (27 and up) are more likely to use sexting to gain status in their social network. Younger people, however, do not use sexting to assert their power, unless done maliciously.

11) There seems to be a pervasive "casual" attitude about sex, and "shacking up", perhaps a cavalier attitude about love and intimacy not being part of a "relationship". Am I misreading this?


You are correct. My clinical experience has been that teens and young adults believe that committed relationships are "too much work."




May 17th, 2009

Michael F. Shaughnessy

Senior Columnist

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