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Researcher: Kids' Courting Behavior Increasingly Explicit, Unhealthy

A girl texts on a bench. (James Offer/Flickr)
A girl texts on a bench. (James Offer/Flickr)

New research shows that boys are increasingly using sexually explicit social media messages to flirt, and it may be hurting them, as much as the girls who receive it.

We’ve long known about sexting: when kids use sexually provocative language and pictures.

But after four years of collecting interviews from students ages 4 to 18, their parents and their teachers, clinical psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair, a Harvard instructor, has concluded that the courting behavior children now use is much more aggressive and sexual than it used to be.

“Boys are getting horrible messages today about how one makes an overture to a girl you have a crush on,” Steiner-Adair told Here & Now. “The ethos today is a kind of crude, sexually aggressive overture is the way to proceed.”

The irony, she says is that boys don’t want to be this way. Rather, they are mimicking what they see in a “misogynistic” culture.

We’re a sex saturated culture, yet we are a country that has a gag rule on teaching healthy sexuality.–Catherine Steiner-Adair

Steiner-Adair found that, “kids were often thoughtful and apologetic,” through the course of her research.

The problem, Steiner-Adair says, is that there is no acceptable or healthy outlet to talk about sexuality.

“We’re a sex saturated culture, yet we are a country that has a gag rule on teaching healthy sexuality,” she said.

Steiner-Adair says the way boys learn about treating girls has long-lasting impacts as boys become men. She sites research that one in six women report unwanted sexual contact–whether rape or assault–on college campuses.

“For me one of the most moving comments I heard over and over and over from 18 to 25 year olds was ‘We’re the most connected generation history, and yet we are the worst at real love,’” Steiner-Adair said.

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